10 Key Takeaways on How to be a Better Leader and a Better Team Mate

10 Key Takeaways on How to be a Better Leader and a Better Team Mate

10 Key Takeaways on How to Be a Better Leader and a Better TeamMate;

Lessons from Some Hyper Responsible Ex-Marines.


hands in together team

Photo from Unsplash by Perry Grone



Yesterday on the Mainyard Studio’s live webinar series, ‘From Struggle to Success’, our guest speaker referred to people who talk about personal development as a ‘bit of a twat’. It’s important here to mention that the guest speaker works in the field of personal development helping people to adjust their mindset, master their emotions and generally live a more fulfilling life.


He then went to qualify this statement and talk about how important personal development practices are. He also went on to say that the only reason someone may seem like a class A D-bag is if they are spouting advice where it has not been requested, shoving the life-altering methods down people’s throats and then worst of all, if they are only talking about personal development methods and not consistently practising themselves, leaving them shouldered with the dirty secret that despite their shiny outward appearance, their life behind the curtain is in shambles.


If you want to check out the replay of the webinar you can do so here.


So, what does this have to do with ex-marines and being a great teammate and leader?


I’ll tell you.


One of the greatest (personal development) practices anyone can get on board within their journey to become a better leader, teammate, parent, partner, whatever, is to consistently take ownership of everything in your life.

A practice drilled into US marines in order for them to execute their operations and have the best chance of bringing everyone home alive.


Regardless of your sentiments towards the military, hundreds of years of implementing and developing standard operating procedures mean that the sh*t they do is usually very effective. And that’s why two of them wrote a book about it which is the basis of this blog post.


“Everything that happens in your life at any given moment is your fault.”

What does it mean to take ownership of everything in your life?

It means kicking that ego to the curb and understanding and acknowledging that everything that happens in your life at any given moment is your fault. Yes, that’s right. The good, the bad and the ugly.


Even the crap that someone else causes, it is up to you to take responsibility for how it happened.


Now, there is a small disclaimer needed here which is that sometimes, terrible things happen for which you cannot possibly take responsibility. A loved one getting injured in a car wreck that you were not even there for or people getting sick. Losing a job because the corporation you work for is run by a bunch of corrupt buffoons who now need to downsize or close altogether. In these sorts of situations, the only thing for which you can take ownership is your response and perspective about the situation. Which really is the most important thing and the only thing in life we can truly control. But that’s a topic for another blog post.


In other circumstances, if you don’t get what you want from life, work, colleagues, kids, partners…. The list could go on, asking yourself the question ‘What part did I play leading up to this’ is the key to taking extreme ownership.


Let’s keep this work-related as we are a business-focused organisation and I expect if you are reading this, you own a business.


As an example, you have asked a member of your team to complete a task. They either didn’t do it or didn’t do it to the standard of your expectations.

‘If you can put your hand on your heart and say that you have done all of the above and the results are still poor, then you can know for certain that this person cannot or will not do their job.’

As the leader, and you should always act as the leader even if technically you are not; this doesn’t mean telling people what to do, being bossy. It means taking ownership. Surprise! Instead of flipping out and setting up camp in the hills of anger and frustration, you should ask yourself some questions… Did this person understand what they were supposed to do with a clearly defined and measurable outcome? Does this person think they did their best and delivered a great result? Did they get stuck but felt they could not ask for help? If so, why? Are they even capable of doing said task? If not, can you give them training? Is this person very capable but something else is going on that distracted them from doing a great job? What could you as the leader have done differently to ensure that the task was completed to the standard you want?


This practice in part is looking at the way you operate and communicate and making sure that the people around you have the tools and resources as well as knowledge of which levers to pull and buttons to press, figuratively or literally, in order to deliver the desired outcomes.

‘If you are teammate or employee this practice means acknowledging and owning up to the fact that you didn’t do what you said you would do regardless of what stopped you from doing it.’


It does not mean consistently accepting subpar results or enabling mediocrity. It means doing everything in your power to nurture and support someone’s growth to meet your expectations until the point that they habitually meet your expectations independently or in the case of business, cutting them loose when it’s clear they cannot perform the way you need them to. Don’t cut your kids loose. Ever.


If you can put your hand on your heart and say that you have done all of the above and the results are still poor, then you can know for certain that this person cannot or will not do their job.


If you are teammate or employee this practice means acknowledging and owning up to the fact that you didn’t do what you said you would do regardless of what stopped you from doing it.

For example, you are late for work on multiple occasions. The reason is that there are roadworks causing traffic. The real reason and the extreme ownership practice is that you didn’t leave home with enough time to account for possible traffic.

You haven’t finished a report that was due at the end of the week. The reason is that you had to deal with unexpected supplier issues. The real reason and the extreme ownership practice is because you clocked out at the end of the day and went home instead of staying to catch up on the work missed. And this goes a level deeper in that the real, real, extreme ownership reason is that you don’t want to do it probably because it doesn’t align with your values. Another topic for another blog post.


Extreme ownership is not an easy practice.

Most of us have not been reconditioned by the military to be more effective. However, practice is the operative word here. All anyone can really hope to do is make progress because perfection is an unattainable illusion.


So, with the context of this book vaguely covered, onto the main event and the key takeaways from the book Extreme Ownership by ex-US marines, Jocko Willink and Leif Babbin.


I would like to mention that whilst the entire Mainyard Studios team have read this book, these key points were noted by the Mainyard Studios Operations Director, Katherine who is an ex-marine. She hails from our neighbours over the pond in the USA and she has now settled in merry old England.

Blond smiling female giving piece sign


She’s definitely badass and also full of compassion and is very consistent with extremely owning sh*t. Which makes her a great leader.



  1. You are always responsible:


  • The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.
  • In any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader.
  • The leader must own everything in his/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 best leaders don’t JUST take responsibility for themselves and their job, they take extreme ownership of everything that impacts the mission.


  1. There are no bad teams, only bad leaders:


  • A losing team can easily and quickly become a winning team with a better leader.
  • Increase performance standards: It’s not what you preach/teach but what you tolerate. You must:

– acknowledge mistakes

– stop blaming others

– lead the team to success

  • There are 2 types of leaders: effective and ineffective
  • When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performances is expected, and no-one is being held accountable. If there are no consequences then that performance becomes the new standard.
  • Consequence for failing need not be immediately severe, but leaders must ensure the tasks are repeated until the higher expected standard is achieved.
  • Leaders must push the standards in a way that encourages and enables the team to utilise Extreme Ownership.
  • The leader must pull the different elements within the team together to support one another, with all focus exclusively on how best to accomplish the mission.
  • Most people want to be part of a winning team, yet they often don’t know how, or simply need motivation and encouragement.
  • Teams need a forcing function to get the different members working together to accomplish the mission.
  • A leader must never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve and must build that mindset into the team. They must face the facts through a realistic and brutally honest assessment of themselves and the team’s performances.

– Identify weaknesses

– strengthen those weaknesses

– Come up with a plan to overcome challenges.


  1. Believe:


  • In order to convince and inspire others to accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission.
  • The leader must be a true believer in the greater cause.
  • If the leader doesn’t believe, he/she will not take the risks required to overcome the inevitable challenges necessary to win, and they will not be able to convince others.
  • Leaders must always operate with the understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves and their own personal interests. They must impart this understanding to their teams, down to the lowest level team member.
  • Far more important than training or equipment, a resolute belief in the mission is critical for any team or organization to win, and achieve big results.
  • In many cases, the leader must align his/her thoughts and visions to that of the mission.
  • Once the leader believes in the mission, that belief shines through to those below and above in the chain of command.
  • Actions and words reflect belief with a clear confidence and self-assuredness that is not possible when belief is in doubt.
  • When a leader’s confidence breaks, those who are supposed to follow him/her see this and begin to question their own belief in the mission.
  • Every leader must be able to detach himself from the immediate tactful mission and understand how it fits into strategic goals.
  • When leaders receive an order that they themselves 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

– analyse the strategic picture

– and then come to a conclusion

  • If they cannot determine a satisfactory answer themselves, they must ask questions up the chain of command until they understand why.

– If front line troops and commanders understand why, they can move forward, fully believing in what they are doing.

  • Belief in the mission ties in with the 4th law of combat, decentralise command. The leader must explain not just what to do, but why. It is the responsibility of the junior leader to reach out and ask if they do not understand. Only when leaders at all levels understand and believe in the mission, can they pass that understanding belief to their teams so they can persevere through their challenges, execute, and win.


  1. Egos Cause Issues:


  • Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process; the ability to take good advice; and the ability to accept constructive criticism.
  • It can even stifle someone’s sense of self-preservation.
  • Often the most difficult ego to deal with is your own.
  • When personal agendas become more important to the team and its success, performance suffers and failure ensues.
  • Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego, and operating with a high degree of humility:

– admitting mistakes

– taking ownership

– Implementing a plan to overcome challenges

  • Ego can prevent a leader from conducting an honest realistic assessment of her/his own performance, and the performance of the team.
  • Strive to be confident, but not cocky; but never think you are too good to fail, or that your enemies are not capable, deadly, and/or eager to explore our weaknesses.
  • Never be complacent…always check your ego.




  1. Cover and Move: Team Work:


  • All teams must work together and support one another.
  • Departments and groups in that team must break down silos, depend on each other, and understand who depends on them.
  • If they forsake this principle, and operate independently, or work against each other, the results can be catastrophic to the overall team’s performance.
  • If the overall team fails then everyone fails, even if most individuals did their jobs successfully.
  • Pointing fingers and placing blame on others contributes to further distention between teams and individuals. These individuals and teams must instead:

– find a way to work together

– communicate with each other

– mutually support one another

  • Team members, departments, and supporting assets must always cover and move: Help each other, work together, and support each other to win.


  1. Keep it Simple:


  • Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success.
  • When plans and orders are too complicated, people might not understand them, and when things go wrong (and they in inevitably do go wrong), complexity compounds existing issues that can spiral out of control into total disaster.
  • Plans and orders must be communicated in a way that is simple, clear, and concise.
  • Everyone that is part of the mission must know and understand his/her role in the mission and what to do in the event of likely contingencies.
  • As a leader, it is not how well you feel you’ve presented the information or communicated an plan, tactic, or strategy; if the team does not get it, you have not kept it simple, and you have failed.
  • The lowest common denominator of the team needs to understand.


  1. Prioritise and Execute:


  1. Evaluate the highest priority problem.
  2. Lay out in simple clear and concise terms the highest priority effort for your team.
  3. Develop and determine a solution.
  4. Seek input from key leaders and team if possible.
  5. Direct the execution (best solution) focusing all resources towards this problem/priority/task.
  6. Move on to the next highest priority problem.
  7. Repeat.
  • Remain calm. Step back from your immediate emotional reaction. Determine the greatest priority for the team and rapidly direct the team to attack that priority
  • Stay a step or 2 ahead of real time problems

– careful contingency plan; anticipate likely challenges and map out an effective response to those challenges before they happen.

– stay ahead of the curve

  • Don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation.
  • Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed.
  • A leader who tries to take on too many projects/problems simultaneously will likely fail at them all.


  1. Decentralise Command:


  • Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than 6 to 10 people particularly when things goes sideways.
  • Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of 4 to 5 operators with a clearly designated leader.
  • Leaders must understand the mission and the ultimate goal of that mission.
  • Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

-Decentralize command does not mean junior leaders or team leaders operate within their own program – that results in chaos

– They must fully understand what is within their decision-making authority; the left and right limits of their responsibility

– They must communicate with senior leaders to recommend decisions outside their authority, and pass critical information up the chain, so senior leadership can make informed, strategic decisions.

– Tell higher authority what they plan to do, rather than ask “what do you want me to do”

– Junior leaders must be proactive, rather than reactive

  • As a leader, it takes

– strength to let go

– faith and trust in junior frontline leaders and their abilities.

– requires trust to freely move up and down the chain of command. Trust that:

– junior leaders will do the right thing

– superiors will support their junior leaders if they’re acting in accordance with the mission statement and the commander’s intent.

  • Trust must be built over time. It is not blindly given.
  • Situations will sometimes require that the boss walk away from a problem and let junior leaders solve it. Even if the boss knows she/he might solve it more efficiently.
  • It is important that the junior leaders are allowed to make decisions and are backed up even if they don’t make them correctly.
  • What builds trust:

– Open conversations.

– Overcoming stress and challenging environments.

– Working through emergencies and seeing how people react.

  • Junior leaders must know that the boss will back them up, even if they make a decision that may not result in the best outcome as long as the decision was made in an effort to achieve the strategic objective.
  • The complete faith in what others will do, how they will react, and what decisions they will make is the key ingredient to the success of decentralising command and is imperative to the success of any high-performance, winning team.



  1. Plan:


  • Keep it simple and plan for all risks.
  • Standardise planning processes.
  • Mission analyses; leaders must identify clear directives for the team

– They themselves understand the mission, they can impart this knowledge to their key leaders and front-line troops tasked with executing the mission.

  • A broad and ambiguous mission results in lack of focus, ineffective execution and mission failure

-To prevent this the mission must be carefully refined and simplified so that it is explicitly clear and specifically focused to achieve the greater strategic vision for which that mission is a part.

– The mission must explain the overall purpose and desired result.

– The front-line troops tasked with executing the mission must understand the deeper purpose behind the mission. A simple mission statement or the ‘commanders intent’ is actually the most important part of the brief; when understood by everyone involved in the execution of the plan, it guides each decision and action on the ground.

– Different courses of action must be explored on how best to accomplish the mission.

– Leaders must delegate the planning process down the chain as much as possible to key subordinate leaders.

– Team leaders within the greater team must have ownership of their tasks within the overall plan and mission.

  • Team participation is critical;

– Even the most junior personnel are critical in developing bold innovative solutions to problem sets.

– Giving the front-line troops ownership of even a small piece of the plan gives them ‘buy in’, helps them understand the reasons behind the plan and better enables them to believe in the mission.

  • Senior leaders cannot be bogged down with the details. They must maintain a higher perspective, stand back and be a tactical genius by identifying weaknesses or holes in the plan that those immersed in the details might have missed.

– This enables leaders to fill in those gaps before execution

  • Once a detail plan has been developed it must then be briefed to the entire team

– It must carefully be prioritised to be presented.

– simple, clear, concise format as much as possible.

– so that participant’s do not experience information overload.

– must encourage discussion/interaction.

  • Following a successful brief, all members participating will understand the:

– strategic mission

– commanders intent

– specific mission of the team

– individual roles within that mission

– contingencies and likely challenges that might arise and how to respond.

  • Test for a successful brief:

-Does the team and supporting elements understand it?

-Plan must address unidentified risks where possible.


“Those who will not risk, cannot win” John Paul Jones


  • Post operation debrief: What went right, and what went wrong? What changes need to be made?
  • A leader’s checklist for planning should include the following:
  • Analyse the mission, understand the higher mission, include a commander’s intent i.e. the goal
  • Identify and state your own commanders intend and that of the specific mission
  • Identify personnel, assists, resources, and time available.
  • Decentralise the planning process.
  • Empower key leaders within the team to analyse 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 a 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 positions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders, stand back and be the tactical genius.
  • Continually check and question the plan against the emerging information to be sure it still fits the situation.
  • Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets.
  • Emphasise commander’s intent; ask questions and engage in discussions and interaction with the team to ensure they understand.
  • Conduct post-operational debrief after execution
  • Analyse lessons learned and implement them in future planning.



  1. Leading UP and DOWN the chain of command:


  • Any good leader is emerged in the planning and execution of the task, projects, and operations to move the team toward a strategic goal.
  • As a leader, employing extreme ownership, if your team isn’t doing what they need to do, you first have to look at yourself

– rather than blame them for not understanding/seeing the strategic picture, you must figure out a way to better communicate it to them in terms that are simple, clear, and concise so that they understand.

  • Listen to your team and the feedback coming in. Analyse and incorporate it into any tactical adjustments.


If you would like to procure your own copy of Extreme Ownership for reading, it is available on Amazon here or as audiobook on Audible here.  The authors also have a great follow up book called The Dichotomy of Leadership. Well worth a read in our humble opinion!

If you would like to practice extreme ownership in your business as part of a down to earth and supportive community at a darn good price then contact our enquiry line o333 344 2634 and book a viewing of your nearest Mainyard Studios workspace or complete the online booking form here.