Extreme Ownership

By Joel A. Hess

Recently, I have been inspired by a book recommended to me by my brothers in Christ Paul Koch and Ross Engel: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Some of you have probably read Ross’ fantastic post about discipline which was inspired by the same authors. 

Extreme Ownership is about exactly that: ownership. As a leader, do you own what you are in charge of or not? Do you take full responsibility or are you quick to blame others? Do you see that you own your team’s ability to do their job well or do you let them sink or swim alone? In the first chapter, Jocko recounts a moment in his life when he realized the virtue of owning everything extremely as a leader. I apologize for summarizing his well-told tale. Basically, he was the leading officer in a firefight that resulted in “blue on blue” injuries and a casualty. While the incident was under investigation, Jocko combed over every detail to find blame for the severe mishap.

He writes, “Despite all the failures of individuals, units, and leaders, and despite the myriad mistakes that had been made, there was really only one person to blame for everything that had gone wrong on the operation: me … I had to take complete ownership of what went wrong. That is what a leader does—even if it means getting fired.” He goes on to give examples such as “If an individual on the team is not performing at the level required for the team to succeed, the leader must train and mentor that underperformer.”

This is so true yet so hard to do. Whether a pastor, father, manager, or captain of a ship, the leader is responsible for failure no matter what. If subordinates fail at their job, the leader should do a better job training. We see great leaders do this time and time again. Even in sports, great leaders on a team make everyone better. They don’t blame others. They don’t play for themselves and for their own glory.

This can be applied to our lives before God as well. So often we blame circumstance, bad luck, and environment for problems in our lives instead of accusing ourselves. We are especially tempted to blame anyone and anything but ourselves for sin. We hate taking ownership of our failures to love our neighbor and love God. Our parents did exactly that when God came to find out who was at fault for humanity’s first friendly fire. He first spoke with the senior leader on the ground: Adam. Adam failed to take ownership and threw his wife under the bus: “Eve, the woman you gave me. She gave me the fruit.” For shame!

Dear reader, take ownership of your life! Husbands and dads, you are especially responsible for the health of your family. Don’t blame your wife and kids when things go wrong or the marriage falls on hard times. Look in the mirror. Sometimes I yell at my kids for not knowing something, but then I remember: That’s why they have me! I’m supposed to teach it.

More importantly, whether you are a leader or not, own up to your failures! Stop blaming everyone but yourself! Name it! Claim it! Own it! Repent!

We blame others because we are scared of the reality that we suck. We blame others because we are afraid of consequences. We so desperately want to preserve our righteousness that we will blame everything and everyone but ourselves.

Let me tell you something Jocko didn’t say. There is one who practices extreme ownership more extremely than a Navy SEAL: God. Though God could very well have blamed us, deserted us, and left us for dead, He extremely owned us. Jesus even owned our sins, took them upon His holy body, and suffered for everyone. Our failure to be a good leader, Jesus owns on the cross. Our failure to be good husbands and fathers, Jesus owns on the cross. Our failure to own up to our faults and talent for throwing everyone else under the bus, Jesus owns on the cross. He owned our guilt and shame and received our lashes and death. Talk about extreme ownership! Jesus literally wrote the book on it.

So, don’t be afraid to own up to your crap. You don’t have to make excuses to preserve your good name or hold on to your invented righteousness. Jesus gives you His righteousness. He has claimed you as His own.

As you follow Willink’s advise to take extreme ownership, don’t be afraid! You will fall down. You may even fail. But God has you. He has bought you by the blood of His son, Jesus. He owns you, and He is the most wonderful owner.