I’ve been panic-reading management and leadership books in preparation for my new job as SVP of Engineering at Wego (something that I'll probably write about). One of the books I really enjoyed was Turn the Ship Around. This led to me devour other sources of knowledge from the author, David Marquet: his bite-sized YouTube videos and Leadership is Language are awesome.
Before reading these books, I’d a pretty strong bias against military-flavoured leadership books — the military that I had the opportunity to be a part of did not impress my young mind as being particularly strong at leadership. And I'd judge as naive the people who try to apply what they learnt in or from the military to the business arena.
As my past self has repeatedly learnt, there're gems to be found in unexpected, unsolicited perspectives.
But this is blog post is not about these books – I might write about them in future because they taught me a lot about leadership and using better words to communicate what I really mean.
Rather, I want to write about one of the most valuable takeaways from another book written by military leaders: Extreme Ownership. And it's this, paraphrased heavily by me:
Everything is my fault. And when I see it that way, I can fix it. If someone isn’t doing what I want them to do, look in the mirror first and figure out what I can do to better enable this.
In truth, I lied – there are 2 takeaways in that:
- Taking ownership of everything keeps me in a positive, problem-solving mindset.
- If my manager/reports/peers/executives are not doing what I need them to do, stop complaining about it. Instead, since it's my fault, ask what do I need to do.
These are brilliant reminders for two very common occasions when working in teams: facing setbacks, and situations of unclear ownership (which often means no ownership).
It also equips me with some handy organizational smells (akin to code smells):
- Are people really supported when they're asked to work on an initiative? Or are they consumed by their day-to-day whirlwind while their managers are wondering why nothing is getting done?
- Are people speaking about problems but seldom speaking about their part in the solution?
- Any hint of placing blame really grinds my gears. "They should get their shit together." "It can't be that hard to do X." I'd smile and remember the days I'd hop on their cathartic ride of placing blame. I struggle with helping people be aware of the impact of what they are doing. Send advice.
For a quick idea of whether Extreme Ownership is worth your time (and we have very little time), I recommend Mike Crittenden's book notes of Extreme Summary. If you've got the time, the entire book is a recommended 5-star read.