Book Recollection: It's My Fault

Extreme Ownership

To make it an incredible three months in row (cheers, streamers, jubilation, cars overturning, cow tipping…), I’m going into bonus time to bring you another book recollection.  The title of this book is: IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT.  Now, to be honest, who would want to read a book with that title?  Truth is, that is not the name of the book – it is really named Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win.  It is authored by Jocko Willink and Lief Babin.  Two SEAL leaders that served in Task Unit Bruiser in the Iraqi war.  You may recognize that unit if you read or watched the American Sniper show.  Chris Kyle served in that unit during the same time.  Many of the accounts given in the book about the battle for Ramadi will actually ring true with the events that happened in Chris’s work – unfortunately, down to the heroes that lost their lives serving our country only to have their accomplishments diminished by politicians living in the safety earned by our military.  The two authors have since gone on to form a business consulting firm (Echelon Front LLC) that translates the lessons learned from the battlefield to everyday business scenarios.  The book itself is structured with an account from an Iraq mission or SEAL training followed by a translation into business principles and then an account of how they applied those concepts in a real world company.

I thought the first parts (the military account) was quite interesting and felt it gave a lot of missing detail from the American Sniper accounts (link here).   On the business side it could have been shortened to just a few pages because the message was always the same (say it with me) It is your fault.  If you are questioning your leaders then it is your fault because you didn’t dig deeper or ask enough questions to understand the mission appropriately.  If your leadership objectives failed, then it is (say it with me) your fault because you didn’t plan or communicate effectively for your subordinates.  I can accept this to a point but it seems like a convenient out for everyone else.  I like the concepts of decentralized leadership, critical simplicity and prioritize to focus.  I am also highly supportive of the concept that once a mission (or business objective) is agreed upon it is imperative that the team get behind it and execute.  Continually rehashing the same arguments, passive aggressive behavior and outright sabotage has felled many a good initiatives.

In summary, I thought the  military accounts were very good, giving insights into just how the SEALs go about taking over an entrenched enemy territory – translated, thank god there are heroes willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe with a true love for our country – if only I could say the same about our current political leaders.  I’ll let you be the judge on how well the military principles really  apply to the business world.  I think it would have been more effective to just have a mirrored page at the end of each chapter.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways:


  • The Team – the sum is greater than the parts
  • Authors are SEALS that served in Iraq in Task Unit Bruiser – you may recall that unit from the American Sniper movie – Chris served in the same unit at the same time
  • Authors have a business consulting company named Echelon Front LLC
  • Leadership requires belief in mission and unyielding perseverance to victory
  • Squirter – someone fleeing a target building.. or a bad piece of food escaping your colon
  • I did not know that RPG didn’t stand for rocket propelled grenade – rather Ruchnoy Protivotankovy Granatamyot
  • Laws of combat – Cover and Move, Simple, Prioritize and Execute, Decentralized Command
  • Actually stated that the 5.56mm round was just too small to have much knock down power
  • The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether team succeeds or fails
  • The battle for Ramadi cost Bruiser 3 lives (Marc Lee-first SEAL killed in Iraq, Mike Monsoor and Ryan Job) and 8 wounded – again, recognizable names from American Sniper.
  • Extreme Ownership – leaders owning everything in their world – no one else to blame
  • Jocko had to own the friendly fire (blue on blue) incident that occurred under his watch (one Iraqi solder KIA – others injured) – shut down operations completely until investigation completed
  • Took ownership of the incident which saved his job
  • Give corrective actions that start with what “you” are going to “do”
  • There are no bad team – only bad leaders
  • As a leader it is not what you preach, but what you tolerate
  • Junior leaders must be ready to step up
  • Believing that the team can win is essential
  • Never show waiver in commitment to mission
  • If you do not believe in the mission, your responsibility to ask questions until you do
  • The enemy is outside the wire .. not inside (one of my personal mantras)
  • If your subordinates are not committed it is your fault for not convincing them
  • Simple Simple Simple – when plans go wrong, complexity compounds it – brief to the lowest common denominator
  • The enemy always gets their vote – and it is usually for disruption of plans
  • Don’t be overwhelmed – prioritize, attack, resolve, move on – must also be able to reprioritize on the fly
  • Front line leaders must know they are empowered to make decision and trust senior leaders have their back
  • Decentralized command is required
  • You must tell leaders what you plan to do, not ask them what do you want me to do
  • Ideal number of people to lead – 4-6 (fire teams)
  • Actually gave credit and tremendous respect to the National Guardsmen fighting alongside him
  • Rules of engagement – if you have to pull the trigger make sure the people you kill are bad
  • Leaders need to ask questions of troops to ensure they understand the plan
  • John Paul Jones – Navy hero of American Revolution and father of the US Navy – those who will not risk cannot win
  • Paramount that the junior leaders know their contributions to overall big picture success
  • One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your boss (another mantra of mine although my wording is “never make your  boss look bad”)
  • After debate you must execute plan as if it is your own even if you argued against
  • Believe Chris Kyle was a great sniper because he practiced extreme ownership – intimately involved in planning and scouting putting himself in the right place, right time
  • Waiting for 100% right and certain solution leads to delay, indecision and inability to execute – or the better term analysis paralysis
  • Discipline equals freedom
  • Subordinates knew if they wanted to complain then take it elsewhere
  • People do not follow robots
  • Confident not cocky, brave not foolhardy, competitive but gracious, attentive but not obsessive to detail, leader and follower, humble not passive, aggressive not overbearing, quiet not silent, close but not close enough to forget who is in charge



2 comments on “Book Recollection: It's My Fault

  1. Ron

    Another good book review! As you know, I’m a big fan of two forms of art: piano concertos and book reviews. So in lieu of you writing a piano concerto, your book reviews are golden.

    I would believe you that the business analogies are probably overly long, but that’s what they are being paid to deliver at the moment, I guess. It sounds like they recommend no toleration of subordinates who still harbor doubts after a decision is made, a perhaps fatal flaw here if not in the military.

    Interesting review–any thought of reviewing a book on piano concertos?


  2. admin

    There are some absolutes in the world – Linda letting me do another loooong run, me ever voting for a liberal and to hopefully zero surprise – writing a concerto.

    In some regards I can agree with the stance on non-committed subordinates assuming they had plenty of changes to state their opinion and have it considered by the decision makers. Once the decision is made, I believe the hill has to be taken with commitment. If you want to destroy the productivity of a team allow someone to constantly put the objective down. Again, the question is whether the opinions were given enough thought at the forefront.

    I’ve actually done a lot of reviews of piano concertos. Typically, they start with … “this is boring” followed by “November Rain is a CLASSIC!” For some reason those reviews are never taken seriously

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