Own It

I am reading a book called Extreme Ownership written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, a couple of Navy Seals that have experienced a thing or two. There really isn’t too much in the book that is groundbreaking on the subject of leadership, but the stories they tell are pretty dang cool.

As you probably know, to become a Navy Seal you have to endure one of the most rigorous training programs ever put together. In fact, only about 6% of the people that try to make it through actually become a Seal. These guys have to be tough.

By night three of “hell week” many of the recruits have quit. They have either been hurt during the exercises or they are just flat broken from the physical demands of the training. So they have to ring a bell three times to let the Navy Seal trainers know that they are tapping out; ending their dream.

During hell week they are put into boat crews of 7 men per boat and are given an IBS boat that weighs 200lbs but significantly more when it’s filled with sand and water. These guys have to carry this boat around, run races with it and essentially make it an extension of their body. They have a series of competitions between the teams with these boats and the winner gets to sit out for the next drill, which may not sound like much, but having a few minutes of rest is a BIG DEAL.

In this particular story, boat team #2 was winning everything. They had a bright young crew captain that was a strong leader and helped his team figure out a way to work together, compensate for each other’s weaknesses and they took pride in winning almost every competition. On the other hand, boat team #6 was losing everything and getting a lot of unwanted attention from the instructors. They told the captain of boat team #6 that if he didn’t get his crew in order, he was never going to become a Navy Seal. His argument was that his crew wasn’t as good as boat team #2 and if he had those guys on his team he would win everything. So the commander of the training made a switch and put the captain of boat #2 in charge of boat #6 and vice versa.

The very next race boat team #6 finished in first place and boat team #2 finished in second place. So what is the learning here? The team is rarely the issue; it’s the leader.

Take a look around the industry or inside of your own company where a group of people are not getting it done. Where this is taking place there is likely someone sitting on top of that team blaming outside influences like the economy, market conditions, product inferiority, people problems, competition etc. If there is a leader on top of a failing business or group that IS taking ownership of the problems, I would bet money that he/she just got there and the problem won’t be a problem for long.

I know that there is nothing new in what I’m saying in this post, but I thought the story was a great way to drive this very important point home. Weak leaders want to blame others, strong leaders own the result. Period.  If your traffic is down then change your advertising. If you aren’t making enough margin, bring in new products. If you are being beaten down by your competition and aren’t sure why, they go to school on the subject, talk to your customers and LISTEN for the solution. But stop blaming others and playing the victim because it won’t get you anywhere.

The best leaders I have ever worked for are the first ones to accept blame for the problems and divert praise to their team for a job well done. What kind of leader are you?

Thanks to Karl Glassman and Perry Davis at Leggett and Platt for not telling me how to do it, but showing me how it’s done.


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