I’ve deliberated extensively on this. Should one of the early reviews on PennaBookReviews.com be a non-fiction book? What’s more, should it be a title from the dreaded “Business/Self-Help” section of the book store? Maybe that’s just the English major bias coming out, with an ingrained animosity to all genres outside the acceptable range of “literary” topics. One (myself) would do well to re-read Michael Chabon’s outstanding essay in defense of genre fiction, “Trickster in a Suit of Lights: Thoughts on the Modern Short Story” from the ’08 collection Maps & Legends, in which he masterfully shows the value of any writing that brings illumination to the reader. This is what happened to me when I recently sped through Extreme Ownership – a straight-up business book from the self-improvement genre.
My decision to try on my very first self-help business book wasn’t entirely haphazard. I’ve held a long-standing admiration for the Navy SEAL community, and decided that a business book on leadership principles written by hardcore, real-deal, combat-veterans like Willink and Babin was a pretty legitimate place to start. I can tell you that it is.
I’ve been aware of Jocko Willink for a few years now, probably starting with his appearances on the Tim Ferris show podcast and website. I’ve subsequently found his titles all over the shelves in book stores, and found business folks singing his – and Echelon Front’s – praises throughout LinkedIn, etc. Sometime amidst the early weeks of the work-from-home (WFH) era of Covid-19, I was drawn more towards a need to get my self-help business reading game going. I took the plunge, and was pleasantly surprised.
One review I read on LinkedIn was from a salesman saying that he has a highly dog-eared, and post-it tabbed copy of Extreme Ownership which he re-reads at least once a year. That was intriguing to me. The introduction to the book itself is not only refreshingly self-aware/deprecating, but also mentions the co-authors’ book tours and business seminar circuit rounds that have proven just how wide-spread the dog-earing fandom of their work really is. I prepared myself with my post-its and stick-on tabs.
As I dove in, I found the structure of the book to be pretty unique and engaging. Essentially, each and every chapter is presented as such: first 2/3’s dedicated to a Navy SEAL battlefield story, next 1/3 split between a short blurb on the leadership “principle” and the “application to business“. The battlefield stories are done tastefully. Willink and Babin go out of there way to protect identities of comrades-in-arms (something a bunch of other egomaniacal former US military specials ops folks haven’t done – breaking their own code), and not let these chronicles turn into gunslinger glorification tales. The pivot into the leadership principle is always quick and efficient. Then the business application parts are drawn directly from their first-hand experiences providing managament consulting services to corporate America through their firm Echelon Front.
Here’s my ultimate experience and the crux of my review. I was able to take 1-2 of the chapters from this book, apply the principle and – and more so – the business application example, to my own job and see immediate results. I will pause right here…
…This isn’t supposed to be some infomercial-like endorsement of this book. I am absolutely someone who passes the self-help section of a book store with a quickening of my step and a slight wave of nausea. However, I’m also someone that works a 9-5 corporate desk job, and deals with the challenges and hurdles presented by such an environment. In particular, I’m a middle-manager that has accountability up and down the chain-of-command in my organizational chart. Therefore, I found myself looking for advice on the age-old topic of leading by example and not making excuses. This is something the authors of Extreme Ownership refer to as “ultimate accountability”. In other words, as a leader in a business or non-profit organization you can only find success when you take full ownership of your work.
A lot of the help in the book is presented without pretense. In fact, Willink states, “Who are we to write such a book? It may seem that anyone who believes they can write a book on leadership must think themselves the epitome of what every leader should aspire to be. But we are far from perfect.” (Extreme Ownership, Willink & Babin: St. Martin’s, 2015) He also goes on to point out that these are well-proven leadership principles, and many of the coaching ideas they present aren’t even entirely original. However, I find that the familiar leadership and management topics they present are given a power unique to their real-world experiences, and their ability to humble highly-educated/trained business leaders with the light of clear-thinking and sharp focus demonstrates why they are selling these books like hot cakes.
Now, for the inevitable follow-up question. Will I buy more of their books? The success of Extreme Ownership and it’s reprints in 2017 (original 2015 copywrite) have led to other titles like The Dichotomy of Leadership and Leadership Strategy & Tactics Field Manual. We shall see 😉