We live in a world where too often it seems like everyone is looking to blame someone or something else for their problems, and for why their lives aren’t how they wanted them to be…

No matter how driven we are in our own lives, it’s a trap that we can all fall into without warning.  Why?  Well, it’s so much easier to blame others than the alternative.  What alternative you might ask…

Today’s post is inspired by the chapter, ‘Extreme Ownership’, from the book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals LEAD and WIN by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.  It’s a book I finished reading recently that had a strong impact on how I now look at leadership.

Throughout this chapter, the authors stress that no matter the circumstances, real leaders must take full ownership for everything that goes wrong.  Why?  Because as leaders they are ultimately responsible for everything!

Yes, we have team members who are responsible for different deliverables or tasks in the work place or coverage assignments on the field, and in both cases there will be times when they fail and just don’t get it done.  Why did it happen?  The answer can often be found by looking in the mirror.

If we want to consider ourselves real leaders then we must be responsible for getting our people to listen, support and execute the plans or strategies on our respective fields of play at the right time, and at the proper level of intensity if we want to WIN.

Below are a few excerpts from the ‘Extreme Ownership’ chapter that I feel articulate the problem and how Extreme Ownership demolishes it.

The Premise:

On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader.  The leader must own everything in his or her world.  There is no one else to blame.  The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win…”

The Problem:

“As individuals, we often attribute the success of others to luck or circumstances and make excuses for our own failures and the failures of our team.  We blame… anyone but ourselves.”

The Solution:

“Extreme Ownership requires leaders to look at an organization’s problems through the objective lens of reality, without emotional attachments to agendas or plans… set ego aside, accept responsibility for failures, attack weaknesses, and consistently work to build a better and more effective team.”


Recently I was made project manager of a high priority infrastructure project that will mark a significant shift in the organization’s cloud computing strategy while also serving as a prerequisite for follow on projects.  Translation: It’s important.

While our project team was ready to take care of business, our primary vendor who will deliver the core managed service to make this whole thing work is… well… terrible.

It is very easy to gripe about their performance (or lack thereof) with my project team members and blame them for the project’s several month (and growing) delay.  Let’s be real – in any aspect of our lives its easier to blame other people or external circumstances for our problems.  I did my best? Right?  WRONG!

Therefore, applying the concept of Extreme Ownership has been a powerful mental shift in the way I look at this project.  On paper, all the delays can easily be placed on the shoulders of the vendor.  However, by applying these principles the state of the project looks very different.  It allows me to look in the mirror – as a leader – and acknowledge my failures.  Through this lens, my project is several months behind because:

  • I did not properly communicate to the vendor what was at stake if this project slipped and why we need their timely support
  • I did not effectively raise the issues up the chain of command with enough urgency and energy to compel upper management to put their pressure on the vendor to deliver
  • I did not clearly reiterate our organization’s requirements that their solutions needed to meet
  • I did not hammer them enough to make them deliver regardless of my role power (or lack thereof)

I know… this approach seems to indicate that I suck as a project manager.

However I choose to look at this differently.  If it is purely the vendor’s fault that we are failing, then is there as much as we can do?  Possibly not.

However, if it is my responsibility, then I own the ability to right the ship and drive the changes necessary to win.  No wasted time blaming other people.  Just swift action and results.

Own It. Win. Reap the Rewards.

Let’s take to heart what Jocko and Leif are teaching with this Extreme Ownership concept and challenge ourselves to become a better breed of leader.  Leave the ego and personal agendas at the door and instead put our energy and passion into the mission.

Check out some of the benefits of leading with Extreme Ownership:

  • Build TRUST with your management – they know you are all in and will attack any problems or risks with all your energy, and most importantly not toss them any B.S. as to why things aren’t getting done…
  • Build BETTER TEAMS – have a weak link on your team?  Own it and dedicate time to coach that person up to the level of performance you expect.  Still not getting it done?  Cut them loose – sometimes it is addition through subtraction – you owe it to your team to put the best people on the field to win.
  • Earn RESPECT – too many people are quick to throw others under the bus when things go wrong, but not us!  Imagine the respect a team member will give you when you take ownership for their mistake – 9 times out of 10 they will bust their a$$ for you in the future and ensure it never happens again.
  • Increase EFFICIENCY & EFFECTIVENESS – The more popular phrase is s*** rolls down hill, but I believe the opposite to be true as well.  If you practice this level of ownership then over time your team will see the benefits and be inspired to do the same – game changer and force multiplier!

One final lesson from the chapter before I close…  While I’ve stressed the importance of taking ownership and responsibility when things go wrong we must also remember what to do when things go right!  Give credit to the team (not yourself).  Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant may have said it best:

If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”

Discussion Question: How can you take more ownership on your field of play?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

2 thoughts on “No Excuses, Just Own It

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