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But it was a glaring, undeniable example of one of the most fundamental and important truths at the heart of Extreme Ownership: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders. … leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance - or doesn’t. And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.

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About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, by Colonel David Hackworth, U.S. Army (Retired) influenced many frontline leaders in the SEAL Teams and throughout the military. … Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team. They ,must face the facts through a realistic, brutally honest assessment of themselves and their team’s performance. Identifying weaknesses, good leaders seek to strengthen them and come up with a plan to overcome challenges. The best teams anywhere, like the SEAL teams, are constantly looking to improve, add capability, and push the standards higher.

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Every leader must be able to detach from the immediate tactical mission and understand how it fits into strategic goals. When leaders receive an order that they themselves question and do not understand, they must ask the question: why? Why are we being asked to do this? Those leaders must take a step back, deconstruct the situation, analyze the strategic picture, and then come to a conclusion. If they cannot determine a satisfactory answer themselves, they must sk questions up the chain of command until they understand why. IF frontline leaders and troops understand why, they can move forward, fully believing in what they are doing.

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To ensure that is the case, senior leaders must constantly communicate and push information - what we in the military call “situational awareness” - to their subordinate leaders. Likewise, junior leaders must push situational awareness up the chain to their senior leaders, to keep them informed, particularly of crucial information that affects strategic decision making.

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I gave my closing comments as assault force commander. Our shooters had just been fed a lot of information. My final remarks were a way to prioritize that information - the three most important things I wanted the assault force to remember and keep first and foremost in their minds.

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A leaders checklist for planning should include the following:

  • Analyze the mission:
    • Understand higher headquarter’s mission, Commander’s Intent, and end state.
    • Identify and state your own Commander’s Intent and end state for the specified mission.
  • Identify personnel, assets, resources, and time available.
  • Decentralize the planning process:
    • Empower key leaders within the team to analyze possible courses of action.
  • Determine a specific course of action:
    • Lean towards selecting the simplest course of action.
    • Focus efforts on the best course of action
  • Empower key leaders to develop the plan for the selected course of action.
  • Plan for likely contingencies through each phase of the operation.
  • Mitigate risks that can be controlled as much as possible.
  • Delegate portions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders.
    • Stand back and be the tactical genius.
  • Continually check and question the plan against emerging information to ensure it still fits the situation.
  • Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets.
    • Emphasize Commander’s Intent.
    • Ask questions and engage in discussion and interaction with the team to ensure they understand.
  • Conduct post-operational debrief after execution.
    • Analyze lessons learned and implement them in future planning.

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Far from trying to overburden us with questions, our CO and his staff were working hard to get the information they needed so that they could approve our plans, forward them up the chain for further approval and enable us to launch on combat missions to get after the enemy. … One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership

A good leader must be:

  • confident but not cocky;
  • courageous but not foolhardy;
  • competitive but a gracious loser;
  • attentive to details but not obsessed by them;
  • strong but have endurance;
  • a leader and follower;
  • humble not passive;
  • aggressive not overbearing;
  • quiet not silent;
  • calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotions;
  • close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge.
  • able to execute Extreme Ownership, while exercising Decentralized Command.

A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove.