"Extreme Ownership" Book Review: What Navy Seals Can Teach You About Running a Small Business

By: Katie Truesdell

Here are three ways this bestselling leadership book can impact your company.

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If you’re looking to improve your leadership skills, who better to learn from than two decorated former Navy Seal officers? That’s what you’ll get with Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, written by Leif Babin and Jocko Willink. Each chapter covers a story from their military experience that illustrates a leadership principle they then connect to business.

Here, three small business owners share their top takeaways from the book.

Extreme Responsibility

Robert Dillman, a motorsport performance consultant says he was drawn to the principle behind the title: that leaders are responsible for the entire operation and every action within it, excuses are not justifications, and there is no one else to blame when something goes wrong.

“In every failure, I should have made sure that my strategy was sound, my initial direction was received, well understood, and that it was passed down as originally stated,” he says. “Where there is misunderstanding, there is poor leadership. After understanding the principle behind extreme ownership, I immediately changed my management style. Instead of delegating tasks and hoping for efficiency and productivity, I take the time to explain what I need and why it’s needed exactly as requested, [and] how a small miscommunication during an early process will affect later processes.”

By changing the way he approached communication and leadership, Dillman says, his team saw an immediate increase in productivity, consistency, efficiency, and morale. That led to improved customer experiences and increased referrals.

What Will You Tolerate?

Katie Messenger, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty, says one of the book’s biggest lessons is that it’s not what you preach, but what you tolerate.

“I am part of a growing team that is bringing on new people in our hub market of Louisville, Kentucky, as well as expanding our business to different markets across the country,” she says. “In order for us to have a strong foundation, we have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. If a team member is failing to meet our standards, and if we allow that person to remain with us, we are just moving the bar lower for high performers, as well as harming the underperformer by allowing them to continue at a subpar level.”

Ego Is a Business-Killer

James Davis, co-founder and COO of small business marketing firm GoEdison, received Extreme Ownership as a Christmas gift when he and his business partner were launching their company. At the time, GoEdison had a lot of upfront success very quickly. Davis knew how destructive an overzealous ego was to business, so maintaining humility was a priority—and he credits the book with helping him establish this mindset.

“Everything seems pretty trivial when you put [the authors’] leadership techniques through the prism of my petty squabbles about whose idea was better, or whether the client saw how hard I worked on something,” he says. “What matters is the objective. Do I want to succeed? Or do I want the credit?”

Davis has applied this by doing whatever must be done to help the business, his partners, and the clients. That includes buying office supplies for those who are running low, organizing the clutter around the office, or giving other employees a chance to take the lead on tasks.

Robert Dillman