by John Monroe

In the New York Times bestseller, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, former Navy SEAL officers Jocko Willink and Leif Babin coined the phrase, “There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”

In the book, they tell a story about competing SEAL teams, each made up of seven candidates, going through obstacle courses during Hell Week. It was noticed that one team was always winning, while another team lost every exercise.

The commanders observed that the losing team had a leader who, rather than give direction, was blaming the rest of the crew for not doing their jobs, which caused them to blame each other for the team’s failures.

The instructors decided to swap the leaders of these two teams, putting the winning leader with the losing team — and vice versa. What happened? The losing team with the winning leader began to win, and the winning team dropped into a close second place and remained there. The effective leader inspired his team by clearly communicating the mission, then asked questions to confirm each team member understood and believed in it.

But the process of communication didn’t end there.

The leader requested frequent updates from the team on the status of the mission. Why is this important? Because effective leaders not only ask for input, but they listen and support their teams’ ideas. They also empower their teams to perform their jobs without the leader being present. This was illustrated by the original winning team being able to remain in a close second-place position even after inheriting the losing team leader. Because their original leader had communicated what winning looked like and empowered them to do their jobs, the team was able to continue working together even under the less-effective leader.

Good leaders know a mission’s success is not all about them; it’s about the team. As Willink and Babin state, “Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.”

Effective leaders can be found everywhere — from small, obscure companies to global giants. This is also true with ineffective leaders. The size or prestige of a company doesn’t always coincide with the type of leaders they employ.

If you recall, newspapers across the country reported that Wells Fargo CEO, John Stumpf, said bad employees were behind the scandal of as many as two million accounts being opened without customers’ knowledge. Stumpf defended himself and his leadership by firing bank tellers that exhibited the “bad behavior,” stating, “If they’re not going to do the thing that we ask them to do — put customers first, honor our vision and values — I don’t want them here.” How could this behavior go undetected over a 5-year period, by 5,300 employees, resulting in $5 million of unauthorized consumer charges? The magnitude can only point to a lack of communication and oversight from the top down.

Wells Fargo’s vision is: We want to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially. Their primary values are: People as a competitive advantage, ethics, what’s right for customers, diversity and inclusion, leadership. Stumpf clearly failed to exhibit one of the five primary values of the company — leadership!

He should have been promoting effective leadership from his office to the lowest-level bank manager, ensuring clear communication of the Wells Fargo vision, followed by questions to confirm each team member understood and believed in the vision. But the lack of communication didn’t end there. Stumpf and all his managers should have requested frequent updates from their team members on the status of the vision, values, and culture. Clearly, his management team failed somewhere. Did they ask for input? If so, did they listen to feedback received from those in the trenches? This bad behavior had to have been recognized and supported by multiple levels of leadership to become acceptable behavior. From the CEO down, the leadership team let their egos cloud their judgement, and allowed making money to become more important than the vision of satisfying customers. Effective leaders embrace their company’s mission, vison, and core values. Then they build a culture that breeds a winning team.

Effective leadership requires clear communication of the mission to all members of the team. Success or failure of the team rests with the leader, and if the team fails, the leader must look at themselves first and exhibit “extreme ownership” for the failure. That’s what effective leadership is all about, regardless of whether you’re in the Navy, the financial industry or leading a small business.

John Monroe is a Business Development Advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Monroe is a leading expert in marketing, sales and sales management for the restoration and cleaning industries with over 30 years of experience in those fields. Through Violand, Monroe works with companies to develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit or call 800-360-3513.