Extreme Ownership – Book Review

Guest Post by Baylor Law Student Mike Brunger

The following post is a book review written by Mike Brunger, a student in our Winter 2022-23 Leadership Class. I hope you enjoy this book review as much as I did. – Leah

Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, is more than a book on leadership. It is a tool that can prove handy in anyone’s toolbox. This book is both captivating and easy to read. The authors present the reader with situations where ownership could be improved. But after employing Extreme Ownership principles in these situations, the results were incredible. 

The authors, Jocko and Leif, served as Navy SEAL officers in SEAL Team Three. This Team, more commonly known as Task Unit Bruiser, is the most decorated special operations unit that has served in the Iraq War. Under Jocko and Leif’s leadership, Seal Team Three experienced some of the most taxing combat in the history of SEAL Teams.

After leaving active duty, Willink and Babin launched a company called Echelon Front and embarked on a mission to share their stories from the battlefield. Traveling the world, they teach business professionals leadership tactics, specifically the importance of ownership. Each chapter of the book focuses on a specific element of leadership.

They start each chapter by telling a story from their time with SEAL Team Three. The story usually takes place in a high-stakes combat situation. Then, Jocko and Leif apply lessons from that story to a problem in the civilian world. The typical scenario likely involves a CEO needing realignment within their organization. This book is very military-heavy; however, you do not have to have a military background to understand and embrace the concepts taught in this book.

My wife, Vanessa, is a hotel company’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she started working from home. As travel abruptly halted, the hotel industry was left in financial ruin. At home, at the same time, I could hear her having very tough conversations with staff members. On more than one occasion, she could be heard sobbing after terminating a team member due to the lack of revenue. The pandemic was full of uncertainty and fear. Fortunately, my wife was never on the receiving end of one of those calls.

Vanessa was having a conversation with one of her sales leaders one day. Her employee was disgruntled, venting quite loudly. Vanessa listened as her employee explained how she needed help understanding why the corporate office was constantly requesting reports. Moreover, she stressed how her hotel was already short-staffed, and at times she was stuck behind the front desk checking guests in. Amassing all the requested information was time-consuming. Vanessa, acting as the liaison between her hotels and the corporate office, tried her best to explain the reasons why. The call soon ended.

I was sitting in our living room holding a copy of Extreme Ownership. My wife entered the room, ready to explode! She knew I likely heard the entire discussion. But, before she said a word, I handed her the book and said, “Look at chapter ten.”

Chapter ten discusses the importance of leading up and down the chain of command. More importantly, the chapter explains why. The chapter begins by taking the reader to the Euphrates River bank, where SEAL Team Three’s leaders prepare for a combat operation. Leif and Jocko had just received an email from the Team’s higher headquarters staff, led by their Seal Team’s commanding officer (CO). Leif was livid! In the email, their CO requested clarifying information regarding the operation the Team planned to execute within the next few hours. Leif could not understand how “they” do not know what the Team does, how hard they work, and how busy they are. Additionally, Leif did not know why they had to stop what they were doing to answer “idiotic” questions.

Jocko did his best to calm Leif down. The CO required answers before approving the operation. He tried to help Leif see their combat operations through the CO’s eyes. It was the CO’s job to approve every mission, and it was Jocko’s job to put the CO in his comfort zone so the operation could get approved. Leif began to understand.

The CO and his staff operated from an office in the United States. Therefore, they could not fully appreciate the hard work the Teams were conducting. The more Jocko pushed situational awareness up the chain, the more comfortable they became. Jocko explained the “why” by telling Leif, “We have to lead them.” The more the Team communicated up the chain of command, the less they were “badgered” by the CO.

Chapter ten got my wife’s attention and is just one of many great chapters that can be applied to all aspects of business and life. I recommend this book to anyone. My wife had a copy of the book sent to all her sales leaders. I look forward to hearing stories about how her organization has used this book.     


New ABA Report on Success of Gritty Teams with a Growth Mindset

The ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession released a report Leveraging Grit and Growth Mindset to Drive Team Success. The report is only 34 pages but for a summary of the information, we recommend Gritty Teams Help Retain Women Lawyers on Law360.com.

The new report is a follow-up to the Commission of Women in the Profession’s 2017 publication of Grit: The Secret to Advancement, Stories of Successful Women Lawyers, which was part of the ABA’s The Grit Project. Created to educate women lawyers about the science behind grit and growth mindset, The Grit Project website provides tools to assess and learn about these two important traits, grit and growth mindset, found to be common in successful women lawyers. We use case studies from The Grit Project in our leadership class.

Although The Grit Project and the new report focus on the importance of grit and growth mindset for women in the legal profession, we believe they are essential to the success of all lawyer leaders! Grit and growth mindset of foundational topics in the Leadership of Self section of our book, as well as in the Leadership of Self segment of our class. Much of our class is spent guiding our students to consider the following as goals in their journey as lawyer leaders: 

  1. Make every decision guided by principled values, emphasizing honor and integrity.
  2. Courageously face challenges to get grittier.
  3. See the world with a growth mindset.
  4. Fail gracefully to see the growth potential.
  5. Gain resilience to bounce back higher.
  6. Seek feedback and embrace the process to gain understanding and progress.
  7. Be inclusive as you nurture relationships.

As always, we invite your feedback and welcome your input! Let us know how we can help.



Chop Wood, Carry Water – Book Review

Guest Post by Baylor Law Student Samantha Chaiken

The following post is a book review written by Samantha Chaiken, a student in our summer 2021 Leadership Class. As I reflect on Samantha’s thoughts below, two points seem particularly relevant to our discussion this month on the importance of wellness:

  • The author states that the training of our law students becomes their baseline to which they will revert when under pressure. What if we do not address the need to prioritize wellness? Shouldn’t we model and teach them how to do so? We know our students will have challenging times ahead. Let’s help them develop healthy coping mechanisms to be better prepared to weather their storms in law school and beyond.

  • A favorite lesson from the book was about the danger of ‘comparison left unchecked.’ Comparison, which is built into the fabric of law school, is often necessary and constructive; yet an environment of constant comparison can be taken too far and lead to unhealthy feelings about one’s self-worth or abilities and can rob us of our joy. Leadership development programming can help our students learn to cope as we emphasize developing grit, resilience, and a growth mindset to encourage students to view feedback constructively and failure as a normal aspect of their progression.

I hope you enjoy this book review as much as I did. – Leah

Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf, is exactly as advertised. The book truly takes you through, chapter by chapter, how to fall in love with the process of becoming great. This leadership book is a quick read with each chapter providing a powerful lesson.

The book follows the story of John, a boy who dreamed of becoming a samurai warrior, specifically, an archer. John traveled to Japan where he enrolled as an apprentice to a small community of samurais. It is there that John meets a friendly old sensei by the name of Akira. Much like the Karate Kid, rather than “wax on, wax off,” Akira taught John how to “chop wood, carry water.” In each chapter of the book, Akira teaches John an important lesson that brings John closer to his goal of becoming a samurai warrior.

Lessons Learned

 Although there are many, one of my favorite lessons from the book is that “comparison is the thief of all joy.” One day as John was struggling, he was jealous of how easy things seemingly came to his peers while he had to work so hard and still not do as well as his peers. Akira pulled John aside and told him that he must focus on his journey and his alone. Otherwise, he would run the risk of not only losing his joy, but also losing any chance of true success in the long run.

One of my favorite quotes was Akira telling John, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” This lesson truly resonated with me. As law students, we are constantly placed in positions of comparison.  We are constantly comparing grades, class performance, titles, positions on Law Review or in student organizations, and in many other aspects of our law school experience. With so much comparison, we lose our joy. We forget our prior successes that led us to law school in the first place. We diminish our accomplishments while in law school because there is seemingly always another classmate who did better than us. We fail to put our experiences in perspective.

This same phenomenon happens to lawyers in the real world as well. Only the subject matter of the comparison changes. That is why it is so important to take a minute to reflect on your own personal journey and the progress YOU have made. Otherwise, comparison is going to steal all your joy.

The book also teaches that “under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” As I read through the chapter, I had to take a moment to be thankful that I attend Baylor Law. Though the training may be rigorous, and perhaps feels impossible at times, I know that under pressure I will be able to perform at an extremely high level.


I highly recommend this book – to law students, lawyers, or to anyone for that matter. This book will teach you, test you, and bring you to tears. Each lesson truly packs a punch. I had the opportunity to read this book during my time in Practice Court. I think it helped me to keep my journey in perspective. There were so many days when I would start reading and could not help but cry because the lesson was so applicable to what I was going through at the time.

If you are seeking to improve your leadership abilities, you must first look within yourself. This book will assist you along your journey of becoming great. However, even the book itself provides a warning that it is not enough to simply read the book and learn the principles, you must apply them in your everyday life no matter how challenging it may be.