Monday, April 22, 2019

Practicing Extreme Ownership

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
It's amazing to me how many things are simple to understand, yet incredibly difficult to practice. Leadership principles fall into this camp. I recently read "Extreme Ownership" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and there are a couple of things I like about the book.
  1. I got to read about some crazy situations in the war on terror. I'm thankful that none of my work issues are life and death.
  2. Each chapter covers a principle. It starts with a story from Iraq, then gives the principle, then shows an application to business.
  3. Each principle applies to each business, and probably each family, no matter where you are in the organization.
There are 12 principles. Here's a summary of each one. If you lead a group, it's definitely worth reading.

1 Extreme Ownership
"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. (p. 30)"

This is a mindset. When something doesn't go as planned, look to yourself first. Especially since you are the only one you can change.

2 No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
"[W]hen it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate. When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable—if there are no consequences—that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards. (p. 54)"

The story in this chapter is awesome - it talks about Seal training and boat races. So intense! What's really cool is if you hold people to a standard they start to self-police and it raises the bar for everyone.

3 Believe
"In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission. (p. 76)"

"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. (p. 77)"

I would add that this isn't a blind belief. It needs to be well-founded and explained.

4 Check the Ego
"When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission's success, performance suffers and failure ensues. (p. 100)"

Also, it's OK if someone else comes up with a better idea. Give them credit and go with it. Counter-intuitively, you gain more respect by being willing to admit there are people smarter than you.

5 Cover and Move
"Cover and Move means teamwork. All elements within the greater team are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose. Departments and groups within the team must break down silos, depend on each other and understand who depends on them. (pp. 121-122)"

In battle, this is when you give cover fire while another person moves. One of the ways to make this work is to talk about how you'll be supported and get/make commitments ahead of time.

6 Simple
"Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success. When plans and orders are too complicated, people may not understand them. And when things go wrong, and they inevitably do go wrong, complexity compounds issues that can spiral out of control into a total disaster. Plans and orders must be communicated in a manner that is simple, clear, and concise... If your team doesn’t get it, you have not kept things simple and you have failed. You must brief to ensure the lowest common denominator on the team understands. (p. 140)"

This is one I struggle with. My issue is my plans tend to be complex and I don't do a great job of documenting all of it. As a result, it looks "simple" on paper, but in reality, it's complicated. To make matters worse, I don't do a great job of limiting the scope of the work down. This is my focus area.

7 Prioritize and Execute
"[A] leader must remain calm and make the best decisions possible... We verbalize this principle with this direction: "Relax, look around, make a call." Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems or a number of tasks simultaneously. The team will likely fail at each of those tasks. Instead, leaders must determine the highest priority task and execute. (p. 161)"

This reminds me a fantastic book called "The ONE Thing" by Gary Keller where you ask yourself: What's the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

This takes it a step further and talks about it from a leader's perspective, where you then have to impart The One Thing to your team. Here's the exact breakdown of the process:
  • "evaluate the highest priority problem.
  • lay out in simple, clear, and concise terms the highest priority effort for your team.
  • develop and determine a solution, seek input from key leaders and from the team where possible.
  • direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources toward this priority task.
  • move on to the next highest priority problem. Repeat.
  • when priorities shift within the team, pass situational awareness both up and down the chain.
  • don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation. Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed. (pp. 162-163)"

8 Decentralized Command
"Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than six to ten people, particularly when things go sideways and inevitable contingencies arise... Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five operators, with a clearly designated leader. Those leaders must understand the overall mission, and the ultimate goal of that mission—the Commander’s Intent. (p. 183)"


"They must have implicit trust that their senior leaders will back their decisions. Without this trust, junior leaders cannot confidently execute, which means they cannot exercise effective Decentralized Command. (p. 184)"

A tactical way of handling this comes from Claire Lew of Signal V. Noise where she encourages managers to STOP solving problems. Instead, she suggests starting with 16 questions to encourage them to solve the problem on their own. One example (#2 on the list) is, "What are the options, potential solutions, and courses of action you’re considering?" The whole article is worth reading.

By empowering the team to solve the problems for themselves, you can reliably break teams into manageable elements and trust that they can solve their own problems.

9 Plan
"Leaders must identify clear directives for the team... [T]he 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. (p. 204)"

That goes back to keeping things simple. But that's not just the actions, the why behind the actions needs to simple and understood.

"The frontline troops tasked with executing the mission must understand the deeper purpose behind the mission. While a simple statement, the Commander’s Intent is actually the most important part of the brief. (p. 204)"

"Following a successful brief, all members participating in an operation will understand the strategic mission, the Commander’s Intent, the specific mission of the team, and their individual roles within that mission. They will understand contingencies—likely challenges that might arise and how to respond. The test for a successful brief is simple: Do the team and the supporting elements understand it? (p. 205)"

One of the keys here is asking them to repeat back, in their own words, what needs to be done. I'm good at doing that myself to test my own understanding, but I need to get better at asking others to summarize plans back to me.

I also like the idea of making the plan, and then combined with Decentralized Command, stepping away from all the details. This allows you to come in later with the big picture and seem like a genius because you can see the forest from the trees. I've seen this at my company and it's amazing.

10 Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
"[L]eading down the chain of command. It requires regularly stepping out of the office and personally engaging in face-to-face conversations with direct reports and observing the frontline troops in action to understand their particular challenges and read them into the Commander’s Intent. (p. 230)"

Bill and Dave of HP made this type of management style famous int he 1970s. There tends to be a trend towards attending more and more meetings and reviews, which doesn't leave time for walking around, but it's critically important.

Going the other direction:

"If your boss isn’t making a decision in a timely manner or providing necessary support for you and your team, don’t blame the boss. First, blame yourself. Examine what you can do to better convey the critical information for decisions to be made and support allocated. (p. 237)"

Another compelling idea from the book is realizing your boss is NOT out to get you. They want you, and the group to succeed. So if they don't seem to be headed in the same direction as you, it's not because they're trying to make your life hard for the fun of it. Instead, they're simply not able to see your point of view or have other considerations. Instead of getting frustrated, talk to them as someone who's on your side.

11 Decisiveness and Uncertainty
"There is no 100 percent right solution. The picture is never complete. Leaders must be comfortable with this and be able to make decisions promptly, then be ready to adjust those decisions quickly based on evolving situations and new information. (p. 254)"

If you chose to wait, you'll find you're playing defense more often than not because decisions will get made for you.

12 Discipline Equals Freedom
"Every leader must walk a fine line. That’s what makes leadership so challenging. Just as discipline and freedom are opposing forces that must be balanced, leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities, between one extreme and another. The simple recognition of this is one of the most powerful tools a leader has. (p. 274)"

This chapter really is the beginning of another book: "The Dichotomy of Leadership" that talks about finding that balance between contradictory qualities.

Final Thoughts

As you can tell, there are a lot of nuggets to take away from the book. And it comes back to deciding to take ownership of your actions and the outcomes. Like my pre-school teacher taught me: You can't change others, but you can change yourself.

If you're in a leadership position, or a parent, this book has a lot of lessons worth taking to heart.

Monday, April 08, 2019

“The deal of a lifetime comes once a week”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
This is my all-time favorite quote: "The deal of a lifetime comes once a week." Dolf de Roos was explicitly talking about real estate, but I think it spans all of life.

I read his book, "Real Estate Riches" in high school and this quote has stayed with me. The idea is simple: There are always fantastic opportunities for us to seize upon. So even if you miss one today, there will likely be another one later... Perhaps even next week.

It's like catnip to eternal optimists like myself, and the antidote to people with the FOMOs.

Of course, it doesn't mean you can procrastinate and never pull the trigger because "there will be another one next week," but it does mean you don't need to try and force something to happen for fear of never getting another chance.

So when you find an awesome real estate deal you can't fund? It's OK because there will be another one. This has happened to me. I purchased a fantastic property - a quality deal I never thought I would get again. A little while later another property came my way that was just an interesting. However, I wasn't able to close the deal. Then, the next time I went looking for a property, I found another one with similar returns to the first one.

Part of the reason this works in real estate (and sales in general) is that everyone tends to have a large "life event" every six months. Some examples:

  • A new job
  • A new home, or substantial change to the existing home
  • Kids changing schools and/or schedules
  • A change in health (good or bad)
  • An increase or decrease in savings
  • You learn a new skill or make a new connection

The point is that life is continually changing, and a "no" six months ago might become a "yes" today because of some change in their life. So a deal of a lifetime that didn't exist last week could suddenly exist this week.

So take heart! There's always a fantastic opportunity for you to take advantage of, even if you recently saw someone else take advantage of an opportunity last week.