Book Review: 'Extreme Ownership'

Updated on October 7, 2018
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.


“Extreme Ownership” tries to bring the leadership lessons of the post-9-11-01 warfare environment to a broader context, as well as lessons hard learned on the battlefield to the next generation of soldiers so that future generations don’t lose lives unnecessarily relearning them. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this book?

The Cover of "Extreme Ownership"
The Cover of "Extreme Ownership" | Source

The Strong Points of "Extreme Ownership"

Where most leadership books talk about personal development of the leader and taking someone and hoping that their reading the book turns them into a leader, this book focuses on how a person taking charge of a group can turn them into a team. And it doesn’t rely on “finding the best people” but how to work with anyone and everyone.

The book gives leadership lessons from the field and then how these lessons are applicable to business.

How do you train leaders who can train the next crop of leaders? This book addresses exactly that, and the answer isn’t hoping on the job training is good enough. The importance of having the next round of leaders training so they can step in when the official leader is down - or out - is also discussed.

While your team hopes to succeed, sometimes it doesn’t. How does the leader take responsibility for failures as well as successes and deal with each? “Extreme Ownership” discusses how to do this. The “extreme ownership” of leadership of the SEAL teams is in fact where the name of the book comes from. The best leaders take ownership and blame, then seek to overcome the failures and learn from them. They have to subvert ego and focus on the mission. These are the types of leaders we need to create.

How lack of communication can kill you, literally, is abundantly clear in this book. When people make changes but don’t notify others, push timelines without those on the ground knowing it and even simply unclear communication plans so they don’t know how to get the word out can all hurt you in real life and kill the project, too.

There is risk, and there will always be risk. Take steps to mitigate it as part of standard operating procedure.

"Extreme Ownership" outlines the dichotomies of leadership, the traits that have to be balanced and that in excess in one direction or the other are detrimental. Too many books say be aggressive, dream big, go all in - and leave out that extremes in any direction are usually bad for the individual and the organization.

Cons of the Book "Extreme Ownership"

Some cussing, but that’s probably less than what was actually said on the battlefield.

""Prioritize and Execute" can be seen as a generalized version of Six Sigma or Lean Engineering, without the strict focus on quality or resource usage.
""Prioritize and Execute" can be seen as a generalized version of Six Sigma or Lean Engineering, without the strict focus on quality or resource usage. | Source

Observations about the Book

“Prioritize and Execute” in the book “Extreme Ownership” is simply another name for a continuous process improvement methodology.

The book contains many memorable lines such as:

  • “When it comes to performance standards, it isn’t what you preach but what you tolerate”.
  • “A leader must align his thoughts and vision to that of the mission.”
  • “Every leader must be able to detached from the immediate mission and understand how it fits into strategic goals.”
  • "You have to overcome the us versus them mentality and work together, mutually supporting one another."
  • “Simplifying things as much as possible is crucial to success.” Scott Adams wrote a whole chapter saying the same thing in his 2016 book.
  • “If it critical that the operating relationship facilitate the ability of the frontline to ask questions that clarify when they do not understand … ensure the lowest common denominator on the team understands.
  • “Trust is not blindly given, it must be built over time.”
  • “The true test of a good brief is not whether senior level are impressed but whether the men who will execute the operation actually understand it.”

At roughly 300 pages, it is a reasonable length.


I give "Extreme Ownership" 5 stars as both a business book and military history book that everyone should read.

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