28
Mar
11

What part do you own?

The natural human reaction to a threat or attack is “fight or flight.” We step courageously into the fray, or we run for cover. As leaders, problems and challenges are drawn to us like pieces of metal to a magnet. Our job is to address those problems and challenges. But somewhere between our natural tendency of “fight or flight” when threatened, attacked or confronted with problems and challenges, exists another natural human response. It’s called “blame, justify and defend.” And it’s nothing more than the easy way to “blame, justify and defend” problems and challenges on everyone and everything – other than you.

The title of my last book is “No-Compromise Leadership: A higher standard of leadership thinking and behavior.” A key element in “a higher standard of leadership thinking and behavior” is the discipline to replace the tendency to “blame, justify and defend” with this simple question, “What part do I own in this problem or challenge?” To immediately blame, justify and defend simply triggers the fight or flight response in those you are pointing the finger at or attempting to throw under the bus. (Does anyone know why it’s always a bus?)

The discipline to first explore what part of the problem or challenge you own is a sign of leadership maturity – a higher standard of leadership thinking and behavior. Did you clarify your expectations? Did you provide the necessary resources? Did you fail to deliver your part of the project on time? Great leaders, no-compromise leaders, take ownership first.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to live this higher standard:

  • Maintain your leadership perspective: A leader’s responsibility is to seek clarity on all aspects of the problem or challenge. If your first response is to jump to conclusions based on superficial data and opinions, you quickly become the bus driver looking for someone to run over. Ask questions, listen intently, do your research and be prepared to own your piece of the problem. The minute you blame, justify and defend, you throw everyone involved in to “fight or flight” mode, and the drama will spread like wildfire.
  • Team-driven solutions: You’ll work through problems and challenges faster by acknowledging that there was a flaw in the plan or a breakdown in accountability. It’s the tried and true “we learn from our mistakes” approach to leadership. The faster you shift energy to “let’s find a solution,” you’ll avoid unnecessary drama, arguing and hurt feelings that occur when everyone plays the blame game.
  • Own only what you’re responsible for: The question, “What do you own?” doesn’t mean being a martyr. Taking all responsibility for the thinking and behaviors of others will simply enable that behavior to continue. When expectations are clarified, systems are in place, accountabilities are established, and individuals still choose to play a different game, leaders must help those offenders understand what their contribution was to the problem. Enable the right behavior – not the wrong behavior.
  • We are human: Mistakes happen. The best-laid plans are always a “best guess” that the intended outcome will be achieved. I’ve made some pretty big and stupid mistakes in my time. I’ve learned and grown as a leader from most. But some mistakes took a couple of repeats before I got the thinking and behavior right. And some I’m still working on. All I can tell you is that asking myself, “What do I own in this?” has made me a better leader. It has reduced stress and drama. It has empowered my team to be self-directed. It doesn’t get much better than that for a leader.
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