The best book on leadership?


Kate Nash, the CEO of PurpleSpace mentioned in passing that Jocko Willink was one of her favourite authors. 

Jocko is a U.S. Navy seal and the author of several books on leadership informed by his military background. I have 3 of his audiobooks.

I am quite comfortable taking lessons from military settings when it comes to leadership and management because the settings are critical and methods not only must work, but they also need to be clear, uncomplicated, and highly effective. 

I responded to Kate’s comment by immediately suspending other book commitments and started listening to Extreme Ownership, which I have just finished over 3 days. 

Leadership has been on my mind a lot lately. It’s a learnable skill, but it takes personal commitment to go through the process. Encouraging Disability Inclusion advocates to develop and refine their leadership skills has become a passion for me.

I have previously listed my 2 favourite books on leadership (Fearless Leadership and Dare to Lead) – ones I relied on to straighten out my own approach. Now there’s another to add to that short list. 

The military perspective isn’t always a welcome one

The book draws on real combat experience in Iraq. I have a personal perspective on that conflict which made it difficult for me to accept the author’s accounts at first. 

But putting aside the geopolitical morality of the war, the human realities are still real. The insights and emotions are still valid. The leadership skills acquired and refined under real peril are genuine. The personal experience of critical leadership is still real, regardless of my moral qualms about the war.

The power of ownership 

The book is essentially about owning who and what you are in an organisational context – especially if you are in a leadership role. 

The authors argue that there are no bad teams, only bad leaders. That’s confronting. It’s a potent assertion of a life-and-death scenario when poor leadership can lead to death or injury. But in the safer workplace of the public or private sector a leader can lay back and blame their team without any compelling consequences being accounted. The truth of poor services or products can be sufficiently remote so that poor leadership isn’t seen as a huge problem. That’s something we need to deal with. This is especially so in the Inclusion space where success is hard won.

The discussion on managing up and down reminded me of how easy it was at times to simply give up on getting through to seemingly impenetrable senior leaders. A culture of frustrated resignation is easy to fall into. In the battle space that is catastrophic. In a safer environment it can become a norm of lacklustre performance excused by mutual beliefs that it’s somebody else’s fault. 

The personal discipline of fully owning who are and how you interface with teams and organizational hierarchies can be a challenging perspective when blaming others is the cultural norm. 

Sometimes you are on a hiding to nothing but in a battle space you can’t just take your bat and ball and go home. That perspective of critical self-awareness translates into safer places because it creates awareness of potential – how things could be if ‘extreme ownership’ was the norm in our personal situations – at work and elsewhere. 

Extreme ownership gives you nowhere to hide. In a high risk environment, we’d want to be with people who own their reactions and behaviour as members of a team.  The need is less critical in safer environments. However, the authors do demonstrate that translating the positive attributes that are critical in high-risk situations into safer environments significantly improves performances of teams and individuals. 

The reality is that high performance is something we crave – in others, and ourselves.

How does this make sense for Disability Inclusion? 

Change doesn’t happen as fast as we’d like and when we encounter resistance it is usually easy to blame somebody else and take a moralising stance. Or we can continue to do what we do and hope for better results because other folks finally and magically change. 

But the answer might be that we can lead in our efforts at Disability Inclusion more effectively – by becoming the best change leader we can be. 


This book won’t be to everyone’s taste. Confronting self-reflection isn’t an attractive pastime. Dealing with the confronting reality of combat can be too much as a teaching source.

Kate Nash transformed the way I operated as a DEN Chair because she triggered a radical rethink of how I understood my role because of what she established (insight and method). If she thinks Jocko is worthy of being a favourite author in advancing the cause of Disability Inclusion, I’d have been a fool to myself to not find out why.

I struggled to learn how to be as effective as I became. I needed guidance and advice, and Kate was my ‘breakthrough’ inspiration. Jocko’s Extreme Leadership book had that similar ‘breakthrough’ quality for me.

Kate’s own book, Positively Purple, is a powerful story of how she came to establish PurpleSpace.

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