First off, there’s no such thing called “extreme leadership.” I just made it up — combining Extreme Ownership and The Dichotomy of Leadership. And I know, it’s an overkill. But fusing concepts from the two books was difficult but definitely an experience. An even greater experience was practicing it. It was hard.
Extreme leadership is all about leading at a higher level. And as with all things extreme, making it happen is a matter of relentless commitment and courage more than anything else. And after experimenting with it for over eight months (in a virtual environment for a major part), I must say, it’s a pragmatic take on leadership. And the best part is that the philosophy requires you to embrace the dichotomies of leadership.
Here are my key learnings from the experiment:
1. Care for your team but we willing to sacrifice them for the stake of the team or it’s greater mission — this for me is the ultimate dichotomy of leadership. It’s a hard pill to swallow but acknowledging this is a must for any leader. Leading a organization isn’t about them or the individual team members but about the mission. Period.
2. Spend your leadership capital on the things that matter — a leader needs to invest their time and energy (a leader’s capital) on aspects that will move their teams, departments, and organization forward. Wasting it anywhere else means one will run out of it when its needed the most. A great example would be that of a leader who excessively focuses on having team members clean their desks before they leave. His OCD for cleaner desks pales in comparison to the team’s bigger goal. And if all the does is rant about the lack of cleanliness, over time his orders will carry less weight. He’s better of conserving his leadership capital for the things that matter the most.
3. Hold people accountable but don’t stand on their heads — it’s suffocating to be under someone’s watch. Even worse is someone literally dictating each and every step you should take. A better strategy is to explain the “why” behind your agenda and empower them to be accountable to themselves. Or perhaps, each other.
4. Don’t over-plan or get lost in the details — this is quite common with new leaders and managers. They lose themselves over details by planning for every possible contingency without realizing they’re spreading themselves too thin. This isn’t to say they should not plan, for then they will not be able to react to the possible challenges that may arise. The idea is to focus on the most obvious contingencies and the worst-case scenarios instead of the 14,000,605 possibilities. Communicate this to the team and enable them to work out the details while you stay focused on the big picture.
5. Be humble, not passive. Be open to criticisms from peers and subordinates — It keeps your ego in check. At the same time, you don’t have to be overly humble. It isn’t an effective strategy. There are times when as a leader you have to stand your ground, for the good of the whole team, when you know not doing that could have negative consequences. And you do that even in the face of criticism. You’re a leader. Not a people-pleaser.
6. You can’t be a good leader if you aren’t a good follower — this is classic leadership 101, yet most (positional) leaders fail to be a good follower. Everyone thinks that the key to becoming a good leader is to be a good follower first. That’s true but the principle isn’t just for people who want to be good leaders but also for existing leaders to become even better! It’s important to follow the ones who follow you. They have a better perspective of what it’s like to be in the battlefield and have their ears to the ground than you. And know that will only help you create a better strategy that will see your team and organization through to success.
I thank Jocko Willink to expose me to these ideas. My experience with Extreme Leadership has been truly phenomenal. I think it’s hardcore and can make anyone a better leader than they already are. Most importantly, it will toughen you up and keep your ego in check. And they’re both vital for leadership success at any level.