The 12 extreme ownership principles that Shape up Leaders

Leif Babin and Jocko Wilink authored the book Extreme Ownership- and this is a summary of their 12 extreme ownership principles. These will automatically shape you up as a leader– and fast.

Principle 1: Extreme Ownership

You bear full responsibility in explaining your strategic mission, developing each tactic, and ensuring you secure training plus all resources your team needs to properly, effectively, and successfully execute the mission.

This is about not pointing fingers at who failed the mission in case of mistakes. It’s about asking what you could’ve done and how differently you could do it the next time.

Do not jeopardize the mission by shifting blame- take extreme ownership as your priority one principle.

Principle 2: Bad Leaders, not Bad Teams

You must face all facts through a realistic, honest assessment of yourself and your team’s performance. You must seek to strengthen the weak members and provide solutions to challenges encountered. You must enshrine this into the overall culture of every team member- it starts solely with you, then they warm up to that new standard.

There’s an African proverb that says, “Irĩ gũthua ndongoria itikinyagĩra nyeki” meaning that if the leader sheep limps, the others will limp, too, thus graze poorly.

Principle 3: Be a believer

Only when you show the team that you truly believe in the mission will the members follow you convincingly and be inspired to accomplish it. Failure to believe in the mission will cause others to doubt your ability to lead them through it.

Be firm in charting the way forward and taking on all the hard questions and challenges, and so shield your team. They’ll become believers in the mission, too.

Be clear about what you must achieve as a team. Goal Clarity is what creates achievement thinking. Allow no room for defensive or passive behavior.

Principle 4: Check the Ego

Your ego can cloud and disrupt everything you’ve achieved- including your planning, ability to discern and take good advice, and acceptance of positive criticism.

Yours is the most difficult ego to deal with. Pushing personal agenda more aggressively than the team’s, performance inevitably suffers, and this leads to failure.

Synergy leads to a win-win. Do not like to be a take-it-all.

Do not entertain competition among individuals- rather, let everyone work on their responsibilities in a synergistic way that will bring an ultimate win for the whole organization.

Principle 5: Cover and Move

Do not let smaller teams so much concentrate on their immediate responsibilities until they cannot tell what other units are doing or how they can constructively interact to achieve a better outcome as a whole.

This approach often leads to inter-unit competition and when obstacles arise, blame, and animosity ensues.

As a shaped up leader, you must keep a proper perspective on the overall strategic mission of the organization and remind your or all teams that they do not operate alone.

The strategic mission for all must remain paramount to every unit and member.

Cover and move must be about teamwork among teams. Units collaboration must always be with the overall goal in mind.

Principle 6: Keep it Simple

When you simplify things for everyone, achieving the core goals becomes a possibility. Plans and orders that are too complicated lead to failed understanding. Inevitably, things start failing.

This leads to the complexity and compounding of problems, which then spiral out of control- leading to total disaster.

Focus on the excellence of your team, not perfection.

Breakdown each plan and give straight forward guidance and orders. Give actionable steps.

Principle 7: Prioritize and Execute

Trying to tackle multiple problems, or taking a huge number of tasks makes even the most competent leaders become overwhelmed.

Your team will fail in each of those if that’s how you handle things.

You must determine your highest priority task- and execute that first. Every time.

To become an achieving, shaped-up leader, you must breakdown each task with their attached importance. Perfectionist mindsets think that every task is equally urgent and important.

Principle 8: Decentralize Command

You must empower your junior leaders to make key decisions and accomplish core tasks most efficiently and effectively possible.

Being a tactical team leader, you must understand what to do, and why you are doing it.

You must give junior leaders implicit trust that they may know that you and senior leaders will back them up- not accuse them.

When this trust is not there, your junior leaders will not be able to execute confidently.

You must be willing to assist others to fulfil their potential by always providing a supportive climate that will inspire self-improvement.

Delegate authority and trust that satisfactory execution will be done.

Practice 9: Plan

You need to give frontline ownership of even the smallest of plans for your team to buy in.

Help them understand all the reasons that are behind the plan. Enable them to believe in the mission that translates to greater implementation and practical execution.

Allow frontline managers and let them build their buy-in, then you will be able to stand back, check the wider strategic objectives, and identify holes and weaknesses in that plan- and see details that you could have missed.

Principle 10: Lead Up the Chain of Command

Blame yourself first if your boss is not making decisions promptly, or they are not giving you all the necessary support for you or your team.

You need to evaluate yourself and see what you can do to better relay critical information concerning every decision that needs to be made, and all the support necessary to be allocated.

Principle 11: Act Decisively

Since there’s never a complete picture, neither a 100% solution, you must be comfortable with this. Make decisions promptly.

Be ready to change and adjust as per evolving situations and renewed positions.

Research and intelligence gathering are important, but employ them with realistic expectations, taking care not to stop or impede swift decision making.

Do not wait for 100% right solutions for this leads to indecision, delays, and the ultimate inability to execute.

Principle 12: Discipline Equals Freedom

Discipline will make you more flexible, adaptable, and efficient. It will never, as perceived, lead to rigidity.

It helps you improvise. It leads to creativity. More discipline leads to more freedom.

Some teams become so restricted by imposed disciplines- and this leads to inhibit your leaders’ or teams’ ability to make decisions and freedom thinking.

As a shaped up frontline leader who’s executing your mission, if you lack the ability to adapt, you’ll inevitably fail and your team’s performance will be dismal.

However, do not overly impose discipline to restrict your free-thinking.

If you do this, you’ll breed dependent and conventional team members.

 Final thought

Shaped up leaders make these 12 Principles of extreme ownership work for them as they make them a culture.

These 12 are: Principle 1: Extreme Ownership, Principle 2: Bad Leaders, not Bad Teams, Principle 3: Be a believer, Principle 4: Check the Ego, Principle 5: Cover and Move, Principle 6: Keep it Simple, Principle 7: Prioritize and Execute, Principle 8: Decentralize Command, Practice 9: Plan, Principle 10: Lead Up the Chain of Command, Principle 11: Act Decisively, Principle 12: Discipline Equals Freedom


  1. Human Synergistics

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