12 Principles of Leadership

Principle #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.

Principle #2:There are no bad teams, only bad leaders

This is a difficult and humbling concept for any leader to accept. But it is an essential mind-set for building a high performance, winning team.

Principle #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. Even when others doubt and question the amount of risk, asking “Is it worth it?” the leader must believe in the greater cause. If a leader does not believe, he or she will not take the risks required to overcome the inevitable challenges necessary to win. And they will not be able to convince others — especially the front-line people who must execute the mission — to do so. 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. For 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.

Principle #4: Check the Ego

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.

Principle #5: 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. If they forsake this principle and operate independently or work against each other, results can be catastrophic to the overall team’s performance.

Principle #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 total disaster. Plans and orders must be communicated in a matter that is simple, clear, and concise. Everyone that is part of the mission must know and understand his or her role in the mission and what to do in the event of likely contingencies. As a leader, it doesn’t matter how well you feel you have presented the information or communicated on order, plan, tactic, or strategy. If you 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.

Principle #7: Prioritize and Execute

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. When overwhelmed, fall back upon this principle: Prioritize and execute.

  • 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 focus on one priority cause target fixation. Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed.

Principle #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. No one senior leader can be expected to manage dozens of individuals, much less hundreds. 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. Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Teams within teams are organized for maximum effectiveness for a particular mission, with leaders who have clearly delineated responsibilities. Every tactical level team leader must understand not just what to do but why they are doing it. If front-line leaders do not understand why, they must ask their boss to clarify the why.

Principle #9: Plan

What’s the mission? Planning begins with mission analysis. Leaders must identify clear directives for the team. Once 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 creep. 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.

Principle #10: Leading Down the Chain of Command

Leaders must routinely communicate with their team members to help them understand their role in the overall mission. The team members can then connect the dots between what they do every day and how that impacts the company’s strategic goals. This understanding helps the team members prioritize their efforts in a rapidly changing, dynamic environment. Leading down the chain of command requires regularly stepping out of the office and personally engaging face-to-face with direct reports and observing the front-line team in action to understand their particular challenges and read them into the Commander’s Intent.

Principle #11: Leading Up the Chain of Command

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.

Principle #12: Decisiveness Amid 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. Intelligence gathering and research are important, but they must be employed with realistic expectations and must not impede swift decision making that is often the difference between success and failure. Waiting for the 100 percent right and certain solution leads to delay, indecision, and in inability to execute. Leaders must be prepared to make an educated guess based on previous experience, knowledge, likely outcomes, and whatever intelligence is available in the immediate moment.

Principle #13: The Dichotomy of Leadership

A leader must lead but also be ready to follow. Sometimes another member of the team — perhaps a subordinate or direct report — might be in a better position to develop a plan, make a decision, or lead through a specific situation. Perhaps the junior person has greater expertise in a particular area or more experience. Perhaps he or she simply thought of a better way to accomplish the mission. Good leaders must welcome this, putting aside ego and personal agendas to ensure that the team has the greatest chance of accomplishing its strategic goals. A true leader is not intimidated when others step up and take charge. Leaders that lack confidence in themselves fear being out-shined by someone else. If the team is successful, then recognition will come for those in charge, but a leader should not seek that recognition. A leader must be confident enough to follow someone else when the situation calls for it.

 by the author.

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