Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and WinI have a confession to make. I am a soft, excuse-making Millennial civilian. Throughout my career in the automotive industry, while I loved working hard, I was undisciplined and unfocused. Then a life-changing event occurred. In 2016, a colleague recommended a business leadership book entitled Extreme Ownership. It transformed everything in my life: my health, work, and relationships. It helped contribute to the tenfold growth of AutoFi and the fifteen-fold improvement in results generated by Autofi’s partners in just a year’s time. It also inspired me to begin training in the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It even motivated me to participate in a Brazilian jiujitsu U.S. Open competition.

While on a business trip, under an amazing set of synchronistic circumstances, I found myself sparring in a gym in Austin, Texas with none other than Leif Babin—co-author of that #1 New York Times best-selling book, former Navy Seal, and President/COO of Echelon Front.

I had the privilege of hosting Babin in the bonus webinar of our 9-week series, “AutoFi Remote Selling and Social Distancing.” He takes lessons learned from the battlefield and applies them to businesses in order to help dealers succeed and conquer challenges during this uncertain and stressful time. As he learned in the battlefield of Ramadi—one of the most violent and dangerous places in Iraq—an effective strategy, driven by leadership at every level of the team, is the most important factor in riding out a crisis and achieving a complete turnaround.

When he joined the Navy Seal Bruiser Unit in Ramadi, he observed that this unit outperformed others he had worked with in the past—primarily because of the team’s mindset. Members of the Bruiser Unit embraced challenges, took responsibility, welcomed constructive criticism, and constantly evaluated themselves in order to improve. As a consequence, the unit was able to slowly take the city back, neighborhood by neighborhood, so that citizens could resume their lives. It was an unbelievable turnaround—thanks to the right strategies and leadership.

At the foundation of victory in any mission-critical undertaking is the concept of extreme ownership, which requires casting aside blame and excuses. In Babin’s view, we have to own everything in our world. We can’t control anyone, but we can control ourselves. By realizing that, we’ll see that there’s always more that we can do in a crisis situation—and we can preemptively prevent problems. This mindset is a game-changer and enables us to solve problems, rather than run from them.

As corollaries to extreme ownership, Babin emphasizes the importance of:

  • Aggressively seizing the initiative to work toward a unified mission.
  • Innovating and adapting, which is critical right now as dealerships start evaluating new ways of doing things.
  • Adopting an attitude of humility by learning from mistakes and finding better ways of doing things.

New Mindset New ResultsOnce an organization has embraced the mindset of extreme ownership, it is ready to follow the Laws of Combat. These are principles Babin learned as a Navy Seal and now teaches to businesses nationwide.

  1. Cover and Move: For Babin, it’s all about teamwork—breaking down silos and mutually supporting each other while edging toward a stated goal. To make that work, it’s important to build strong relationships and do whatever it takes to win together. As he points out, the opposite of cover and move is: “That’s not my job.”
  2. Exercise Simplicity: Everyone should understand their roles. Good leaders communicate in a simple, clear, and concise manner. Babin suggests that, rather than getting frustrated with teams when confusion arises, leaders should first examine their own communication skills. A great way to test the efficacy and clarity of communication is to ask team members to repeat back what they were asked to do.
  3. Prioritize and Execute: When multiple things start going wrong, there’s usually more than one cause. It’s Murphy’s law: “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” During the current COVID-19 lockdown, for example, the economy has been impacted across nearly all sectors. There are many things that need to be re-evaluated, and that can be overwhelming.

    Babin’s advice is simple, but too often overlooked: take a breath, calm down, and don’t get emotional. By practicing detachment and getting out of the weeds, it’s possible to take in the bigger picture. It also helps to be flexible, since priorities shift and change. When a new game plan emerges, make sure your people know. Prepare contingencies in the event of a crisis. Think through likely scenarios and prioritize.
  4. Decentralize Command: In the new business paradigm, everyone leads. But, in order to do so, it’s important for everyone to understand the “why” behind specific tasks and goals. This empowers employees and instills confidence. Teams need to be aligned toward a company’s strategic goals. It’s also paramount to establish with whom you communicate and when.

Finally, everyone needs to be made aware of the commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR). This checklist includes everything that upper management may need to know, such as problems with vehicle deliveries, low availability of accessories or parts, or unhappy customers.

Aristotle quote: Through Discipline Comes FreedomTo sum it up, Babin affirms that “discipline equals freedom.” While discipline and freedom may seem like opposites, Babin contends that the pathway to freedom is discipline. Discipline is what enables leaders to excel and provides the freedom to do things that were not possible previously.

The pandemic has pushed automotive dealerships into a major evolution, one that perhaps was long overdue. In place of the old command-and-control business models, automotive general managers are beginning to encourage dealership salespeople to take on more responsibilities and cultivate leadership skills. Granted, it’s not an easy task to shift to a decentralized organization structure, but it can be done. It requires management to have faith and trust in their teams. The key is to invest in training and mentoring. This will shape a capable and successful team now and in the future.


View the “Leadership During Crisis” webinar on demand.


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* Caveat: As always, I urge you to check with your local and state Dealers Association to ensure you are operating within current guidelines.