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National Book Lovers Day Leadership Recommendation

My mother instilled in me a love of reading. As a Jr. Highschooler, I found an old box of Stephen King books and dove in. Since then, I've devoured books constantly. As my life has gotten busier, I've switched to mainly audiobooks, but when a book truly resonates with me, I buy the hard copy and make lots of notes and add tabs for easy reference. If you've read my other post, you know that I believe that self-development is one of the most impactful ways to grow your career, especially as a leader. On #NationalBookLoversDay I'm sharing one of my favorite leadership books which helped me increase the performance of my teams.

Extreme Ownership - How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jacko Willink and Leif Babin was a game changer for me when I was introduced to it. I was fortunate to have a leader who also believed in professional development and had our entire team read the book. At the time, performance was mediocre, not bad but not great and we needed to pick it up. The book, through stories of both Navy Seal engagements, as well as business world applications helped us to understand where our expectations and accountability were lacking. We implemented new tactics from the book and were able to see improvement in our results. No one book can define or encompass every nuance of leadership, but this book helps leaders to understand the strategy behind team leadership and performance management.

One of the most impactful takeaways from the book is the balance between being the leader, decision maker, and responsible party while empowering the team you lead to engage fully in the work by asking for their input, caring for them as people, and holding high expectations.

This is the fine line that leaders walk. Too far to one side and ego gets in the way, collaboration is nonexistent, and teamwork breaks down while the leader 'does everything.' Too far to the other side and the team has no direction, no purpose and everyone is out for themselves instead of the team and its goals.

One story that most can instantly relate to is the story of Navy Seal training. The authors describe facilitating this training and relay a story of rowboat races. These boat races, among other things, help the instructors know who the best leaders are. Each boat has a leader and a few crew members. The race is grueling and there are incentives and disadvantages for the fastest and slowest boats. First finishing boats get rewards like rest and advantages to win future races. Worst finishing boats get added physical tasks and removal of advantages making it harder to win the next round. This race tested both leadership skills and resilience.

It was clear after a few rounds that there was one boat that typically came in 1st or second place. They celebrated their wins, rested, and were eager to race the next round. There was also one boat that was always last or second to last. They were exhausted and dreading each new round. When asked, the leader of the last-place boat complained that he didn't have a strong enough crew, that they weren't trying, and that it wasn't his fault.

So, the instructors swapped the first-place boat leader with the last-place boat leader. As anticipated, the first-place boat continued to do well but often was not finishing in first place with their new leader. The last place boat began to finish better and better each round, avoiding additional work and allowing them to rest. The instructors could visibly see the last-place boat (not last-place anymore) crew perking up, responding to their leader with enthusiasm and gaining determination to win a race.

So, what changed? The last-place team was made up of poor performers, right? How come they started doing better with a new leader? As Ken Blanchard would say, "It's always the leader." Let's remember that the teams were made up of individuals strong and capable enough to have made it into Navy Seal training! The difference was how the boat leaders approached leading.

The first leader gave no real direction, just got in the boat and yelled at the team while they were paddling. He also criticized the team and individuals for mistakes or 'lack of effort' rather than reflecting on how he could lead them better.

When the new boat leader arrived, he gave clear directions, encouraged the team and individuals, and celebrated small, wins like not coming in last or beating their previous time. Unsurprisingly morale increased, and with it came better team strategy and race times.

As a leader, it can be tempting to blame poor or average performance on the team. "They're not good enough... they don't have drive... they don't care." As the story above demonstrates, it's not the team, it's the leader. Which kind of leader do you want to be? It's not easy to do, but it's a mindset shift every good leader must make.

Performance Consulting Services can help you become a better leader, find out more here

Have you read Extreme Ownership?

  • 0%Yes, and I'll share my favorite takeaway in the comments.

  • 0%No, but I'll check it out.

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