I just started reading a book on leadership called Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. I don’t usually read anything war-related, so I am being confronted by frequent descriptions of Gulf War combat – I feel a whole mixture of responses.
But I am so interested in this topic, of what are the ‘ingredients’ of a great leader?
Partly because I aspire to be one, and partly because I am surrounded by many people who are on this path as well – whether they want to be or not – because they are receiving messages loud and clear about how to live out the medicine the world needs now.
I am deeply interested in the interface between the leader and the team, because it is the functionality and complexity of these human relationships that make or break the achievement of whatever is the goal, to my mind, at least.
As always, relationship is the coalface of our transformation.
Here are a few ‘in-your-face’ leadership ideas from the book – grist for your Leader Self:
The direct responsibility of a leader includes getting people to listen, support and execute plans.
There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.
When a bad SEAL leader walked into a debrief and blamed everyone else, that attitude was picked up by subordinates and team members, who then followed suit. In those situations, everyone made excuses and ultimately never made the adjustments necessary to fix problems.
The best leaders check egos, accept blame, seek out constructive criticism and take detailed notes for improvement.
It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate. When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable – if there are no consequences – that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards. Consequences for failing need not be immediately severe, but leaders must ensure that tasks are repeated until the higher standard is achieved.
Leaders must pull the different elements within the team together to support one another, with all focused exclusively on how to best accomplish the mission.
Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mindset into the team.
They must face the facts through a realistic, brutally honest assessment of themselves and their team’s performance. Identifying weakness, good leaders seek to strengthen them and come up with a plan to overcome challenges. The best teams anywhere are constantly looking to improve, add capability, and push the standards higher.
Leaders need to believe that the achievement of the mission (winning) is possible.
Extreme Ownership (taking full responsibility) – good leadership – is contagious. A culture of Extreme Ownership develops into solid teams of high-performing individuals. Each member demands the highest performance from the others. Repetitive exceptional performance becomes a habit. Each individual knows what they need to do to win, and they do it. They no longer need explicit direction from a leader.
Lessons from the Yang
I am struck by how the acceptance of blame/responsibility, on the part of the leader, creates a safe container in which the team can operate (at a Scorpionic depth of connection!). Everyone can trust they’re not going to get shot down for failure, which, I imagine, leads to courageous innovation and stronger relational connections.
I honour that this is very ‘Yang’ medicine. Have a watch of this TEDx talk by one of the authors, you’ll see what I mean. (Well worth the viewing, by the way, it’s a call to action I believe we all need to hear…)
Part of my soul purpose in this lifetime seems to be learning the lessons of the Yang, without rolling out the wounds. Whether that’s lessons in how to lead, or how to make money, or how to create, or how to focus my time and energy… these are incredibly potent fields of exploration for me – like perhaps I missed the memo in a previous lifetime and lived the total opposite, and now I need to ‘balance myself out’ so to speak, by learning these things.
Still, deep bow to those who, in this Pluto-Saturn vortex of restructuring and transformation, have perhaps nailed these Yang lessons already and are now hearing the call to integrate the Yin – for example, giving away one’s work basically for free (Avalon, you are inspirational!)…
I think that’s what this time is: each of us doing our bit to integrate Yin and Yang, cos the global climate emergency we are in comes from living only one or the other, or living the wounded version of each, and life was never meant to be lived that way. We need the strengths of both.
New Moon Prayer: Leading my Family
So, under this New Moon in Scorpio, I have been digesting a new possibility: that of being a ‘leader’ in my family.
My husband and I have a habit of blaming each other for the things that aren’t working, which erodes our ability to function as a team and exercise true leadership.
As I eyeball taking the numerous ‘ego-hits’ required to take full responsibility for whatever isn’t working, I feel back-stopped and supported by the ‘safe container’ of our fortnightly ‘deep involvements’ in which to unpack things that have happened, hear each other’s deep truth, live our love and gentleness, and strategise together about how to alchemise change.
Like I said, I’m left feeling hopeful…
And, I’d love to hear what you are ‘diving into’ this month… 🤿