In Extreme Ownerships chapter 2, Leif Babin examines one of the core fundamentals of Extreme Ownership that a team is only as good as its leader. The point is driven home, as is the title, there are no bad teams, only bad leaders. As with many of the fundamental truths with Extreme Ownership, the point seems simple and elementary. We all may believe it, but when examined and broken down do we believe it. Also, some of us may have an initial reaction of a little reluctance to fully believe this. Especially if we are the leader of a team that is underperforming in some area.
Babin begins the chapter characterizing the Navy Seal BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL School) training during the so called Hell Week for Navy Seal Candidates. Specifically the boat training exercise where the Candidates would be split by height into 6 man teams with an additional appointed leader. They could participate in a constant ongoing string of boat races where they would paddle their boat into the ocean and around a marker where they would dump themselves out and carry their boats overhead back to shore. There was an incentive to win as the winning team would get to sit out the next race and get a few minutes of well wanted rest, especially given they were performing this on just an hour or two of sleep over the previous few days.
On one occasion Babin describes how a boat team, numbered 6 was consistently winning and number 2 boat team was constantly in last. Boat Team 2 became more and more frustrated and the leader was certainly struggling as he began to believe he just got the short end of the stick when it came to teams. The leaders noticing the dysfunctioning dynamic decided to switch the leaders of the boats. The leader of boat team 6 was disgruntled and felt punished as the leader of boat team 2 felt vindicated. The results were almost immediate as boat team 2 immediately challenged for the lead and begined to win races shortly after the leader exchange. The new leader of boat team 2 had an immediate impact on the team’s performance. He expected each teammate to perform at a high level and each participant began to expect that high level of production from each other. Team 6 still did well, they still finished toward the top and challenged for the lead but the leadership dynamic was obvious.
A team is only as good as their leader. We have all heard that a time or two. I don’t believe this point argues against the point that the talent level of a team or a team member will affect the results of the mission. There will always be varying talents in a team and we are always looking for A-Players but sometimes we need a functioning body till that A-Player comes along. But as a leader we have the obligation to set the expectation. I have always believed that employees and associates have a keen sixth sense that will easily detect diminished or non-existent leadership qualities. They may not understand but they can feel when a leader is not fully capable.
As a leader, we must look for ways to communicate what is expected and what the target is. So first we must understand that ourselves and then be capable of explaining the directive clearly and precisely to the team with very clear targets. Then a leader must understand the dynamics of motivation for the team and influence their efforts to reach the targets.
Good leadership is infectious, so is bad. During my SME interview for last class, James Boyd of Barron Tile and Stone mentioned that if he doesn’t start each day with a positive and engaging outlook then he believes that he loses about 35-40% of the productivity out of his team that day. He quantified it and it is now a daily standard for him. Leader expectation is everything, if you expect yourself to hit the target and communicate that to your team then they expect themselves to hit the target. They also emulate their leaders, and if given the opportunity for ownership of the mission they buy in.
Easier said than done, but we can do it.