Leadership and teams: How US Navy Seals lead and win

You may wonder what warfare and business have in company. Leadership and teams, according to Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Former Navy Seals, the pair set up a leadership consultancy to train businesses in their principles, now captured for any reader as Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win. “Most leadership books focus […]

You may wonder what warfare and business have in company. Leadership and teams, according to Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

Former Navy Seals, the pair set up a leadership consultancy to train businesses in their principles, now captured for any reader as Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win.

“Most leadership books focus on individual practices and personal character traits,” the pair write. “But without a team there can be no leadership. The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails.”

The book is divided into three sections – winning the war within, the laws of concept and sustaining victory – providing 12 takeaway ideas. Each chapter has a photo from the sailors’ battles, a principle using one of their Ramadi examples and an application of it to the business world, also from their experience.

Willink and Babin are at pains to stress that, “although it contains exciting accounts of Seal combat operations, this book is not a war memoir”. It is, however, highly macho and stuffed with an endless list of military terms, acronyms and jargon.

Willink is the retired commander of the Navy Seal Team Three Task Unit Bruiser, which served in the 2006 Battle of Ramadi in Iraq; Babin his platoon commander. They are also keen to provide anecdotes of their famous operative, American Sniper Chris Kyle – “he was lucky, but more often than not he made his luck,” says Leif.

The book provides some colourful examples. Willink is frank in his description of a friendly fire incident (“the Seal mortal sin”) in which an Iraqi soldier was killed. In the resulting investigation, despite having uncovered a litany of errors by both his unit and the Iraqi army, he took full personal responsibility.

“This is what a leader does, even if it means getting fired,” he says. Owning up increases respect from subordinates and trust from superiors, he emphasises.

This is a straightforward business book, with a clear message: that leadership is simple but not easy. If you can get past the world of warcraft, it’s worth a read.

Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win is available in hardback.

q&a at the top of their craft

Suzanne Locke reveals the story behind Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin:

Who are the Seals?

Descending from Second World War underwater demolition units, the navy’s sea, air, land teams work in all three environments. They’re trained to dive and lay undersea charges, but also to jump out of aeroplanes and perform unarmed combat. There are 2,500 active-duty Seals working in 16-man platoons. Women can now join, if they can pass the legendary basic underwater demolition/Seal training. And yes, you remember right – Charlie Sheen played one in the 1990 action movie.

What’s Hell Week?

Eighty per cent of sailors who go through Seal training fail, and Hell Week is the most infamous test – a gruelling 132 hours on just four hours of sleep, running 200 miles on sand in boots (the equivalent of 7.5 marathons). That’s less than a tenth of the miles covered on land during their six-month training, and there’s 150 miles to swim too.

So what of Chris Kyle?

Chapter 11 – Decisiveness amid Uncertainty – is dedicated to him. Kyle, whom his bosses say practiced “extreme ownership of his craft”, has an armed target in his sights but cannot make a positive identification. He and Babin refuse to take the company commander’s repeated order to shoot. The man turns out to be a US soldier.

Is this the only Seal business book?

No, there are others – you could try The Way of the Seal, co-written by former Seal Mark Divine, or Leadership Lessons of the Navy Seals, by Jeff Cannon and his brother, lieutenant commander Jon Cannon.

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