Extreme Ownership: Making the “Unwinnable” Yours

My name is Jae Gillego and I am a Team Lead here at TaskUs in Manila. On December 12, 2017, I had the privilege of attending something called "Extreme Ownership" training.

Without giving too much away (as the experience is definitely something that must be had first-hand), the training is based on a book with the same title, written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin - two former Navy seals who were deployed in Iraq. The book makes use of these intense experiences to demonstrate how the laws of combat may be applied in business and in life.

Extreme Ownership Group

One of the things that really struck me was their experience in Ramadi. Previous commanders had deemed the situation to be 'unwinnable'. Believing that what they were fighting for could not be accomplished, they seemed doomed to fail. All hope was lost until a change in leadership (and mentality) was made; until someone believed that it could be done.

Little by little, and step by step, the unwinnable war was won. And it happened because the new commander saw the bigger picture, applied a new approach, and didn't give up.

Extreme Ownership We

Everyone has had their own version of an unwinnable war. For us, it was something we'll call Scenario X - a policy that, for years, has been driving customer dissatisfaction (DSAT), and had leaders and managers, myself included, stumped.

But hearing these veterans talk about their triumph over what seemed to be an impossible situation inspired me to detach myself and reevaluate the problem. Was it really something that couldn't be fixed? Or were we doomed because we believed we were?

Extreme Ownership Role Play

After many cups of coffee, I decided to try a new approach, with the four "Laws of Combat" we learned from the training as a guide:

  1. Cover and Move: A basic rule for staying safe and advancing in a firefight, I created a new approach while still covering all the bases, making sure all rules and requirements were met, but not letting my team get paralyzed.
  2. Simple: An integral quality of a leader is their ability to give clear and concise instructions. I made sure that everyone on the team was on the same page, and that they understood our goals.
  3. Prioritize and Execute: With targets and expectations properly set, we aimed for the small victories. We focused on tickets that wouldn't have dead end responses, and gave priority to tackling the tickets that were most likely to result in DSAT. We didn't back down.
  4. Decentralized Command: After doing our best to maximize our efficiency, we set out to give every member of the team ownership of important action items to ensure that we were functioning as a single unit with a common goal. When everybody understands the bigger picture, they become involved.

The result of following this step-by-step process blew me away.

After 2 days, out of 162 items, 10 were satisfied. Yes, 10! This number may not seem very big or at all impressive, but for Scenario X this number was tremendous.

Something we never believed was possible now seemed doable. And it all started with 'believing'. We are now working on our approach to turn this small victory into a best practice that will help our entire team address even more DSAT drivers.

Jae Gillego

January 15, 2018