Navy SEAL BUDS Training

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.


  1. As always, great post! I agree that as leaders, we must clearly communicate our expectations. We must quickly address situations where an individual may not be meeting expectations, and follow through on consequences, if necessary.

    I think that leaders that follow through on what they say, and lead by example are the most respected.
    I agree that leaders must find what motivates each individual as some of us are extrinsically motivated while others are intrinsically motivated.


  2. This was a great post. It contains quite a few lines that made me sit back and say “wow” at just how right you are. For instance, I love how you pointed out that teams can often intuitively feel when a leader is ineffective, even if they can’t fully articulate why. Effective leadership is about more than being smart or simply saying the right things. It requires projecting an aura of confidence and dedication that, like you said, is often infectious. It’s hard to be inspired to step up when it’s obvious to everyone involved that the person in charge has long since given up.


  3. Jeramy,

    Such a great post, thank you! Leadership is everything, and even though I can see how a leader of a flailing team may not want to believe it, they should. I loved the example the book gave with the teams rowing. It’s about setting the expectation with your staff of what you expect from them. If that level is clear and consistent, then the other team members will also add that pressure for you on some team members that may not be living up to expectations.

    Being a good leader entails creating a strong team. A team that can count on either other and work loads feel like they are being evenly carried. All of it stems from the expectations set and enforced by leaders.



  4. Leaders can make or break a team, just as your post articulates. You can have a number of highly skilled, highly motivated, and highly productive team members, but if their leader is ineffective, they will not be able to fulfill their individual potential and the potential of the team will never be reached. People have an intuition for a reason we are more connected to the world around us than we sometimes recognize. Sometimes you can just sense that a leader isn’t a good fit for the team but it can be hard to quantify or label exactly why that is, despite that leader “ticking all the boxes.” The opposite is true as well, where people are compelled, largely for intangible reasons, to rally behind an individual, even if that individual doesn’t see themselves as a leader.


  5. Jeramy,
    I enjoyed your post. The concept of extreme ownership is very enlightening. I agree that a team is only as good as the leader. This can be a hard pill to swallow when it is us sitting in the leadership role. As a leader we must be willing to take ownership for the failures of our team as it goes back to our leadership abilities. We must realize that our team can sense our expectation or the lack there of and will respond accordingly. I believe one of the greatest attributes of a successful leader is their ability to communicate effectively. I look forward to reading your next post.


  6. I really appreciated this read, and in a lot of ways, it went hand in hand with my reading for the week. I believe it is important to understand that every experience plays a role. Second place, missing an opportunity, not getting a promotion, it all plays a role. In a leadership position, it is important to frame experiences as such. Sure, maybe the team failed, but being able to identify what the team got out of the experience is what leaders from supervisors. Your post hit on some key aspects of how to achieve this and it is definitely something I will be taking with me as I analyze how I can be a more effective leader!


  7. Hi Jeramy,
    I enjoyed the read, great job with your post. I have always been interested in the Navy SEALs. I think their work is intelligent and elusive; and, if God had made me more courageous around large (very large…and deep) bodies of water, I might’ve tried to be one myself! No seriously, Leif Babin’s ideas make perfect sense. Excellent leaders are integral to the overall success of an organization. As we previously learned about A-players founders must make sure they are hiring the right person for the job, the first time around. As you mentioned, it is not difficult to spot a fake! Owners must take the time to carefully select adequate leadership that will manage the business effectively even in their absence. Nice work!


  8. Jeramy,
    I agree with your SME. That is the way that each day should start. My wife is very good at dong this, I’m just OK. Part of the routine is to exercise, meditate and journal. The hard part is that it all has to be done before 6:30, when we wake our kids up. My dad use to have a variation to this as well. He used to get up in the morning before work and hit the Nordic Track and watch The Three Stooges. He said that he was getting physically and mentally prepared for the day.

    Liked by 1 person

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