In my upcoming book, The Heart of Leadership, one of the big ideas is that lack of skills rarely derails a leader – skills are too easy to learn. Most often, the issues that create challenges for us are those of leadership character.
In the book, I outline five specific character traits you typically find in the best leaders. Today, we’ll take a deeper look at one those attributes: our willingness to Accept Responsibility.
When plans are not executed as they should be or goals are not met, if we are the leader, we should own the outcome. This approach reveals our heart – it provides a glimpse into our leadership character.
So, what can you and I do if this is not our natural tendency? Here are three ideas to consider.
Internalize the Vision – I like the way Bill Hybels talks about vision. He says, it’s a picture of the future that stirs a passion in you. Once you’ve latched onto a vision that burns deep within you, your chances of accepting responsibility goes up drastically. If you’re not sold out to the vision, it’s much harder to be passionate about the pursuit. If you’re having trouble showing real ownership manifest in a willingness to own your actions and the actions of others, you may need a vision check. Are you all in?
Pretend you own the outcome. This is a fascinating approach to increasing ownership. If you think of all the projects you contribute to – but do not own, how would you behave differently if you OWNED the outcome? Maybe little would change; maybe your energy, engagement, passion and contribution would increase significantly. Ownership is easier for some than others; it is critical for great leaders. Learn to think: “I own this;” and act accordingly.
Look in the Mirror. Every time a project fails to meet your expectations, or your team fails to hit an important goal, look in the mirror and ask, “What did I do to impact or impede this outcome? What lessons can I learn from this experience?” Questions like these are essential if we’re to own outcomes. We’ve got to become proficient at not only asking, but answering hard questions like these if we’re truly willing to accept responsibility.
To learn to accept responsibility is foundational to great leadership – it’s also a little tricky, because the other side of the coin is knowing when to give praise. The rule of thumb is: when things go poorly, you and I as leaders, own both the process and the outcome. When things go smashingly well - when plans are executed flawlessly, give praise. This approach will test your leadership character and build followship.
People really don’t want to follow people who take all the credit. There’s also a real trust that can be built when people see their leader willing to accept responsibility. Don’t throw your people under the bus or they may get off. Even if they don’t physically leave, they may check out emotionally.
The best leaders learn when to “own it” and when to praise others. Start self-monitoring today. How are you doing on this one? If you really don’t know, ask a few team members – and don’t shoot the messenger![GLS_Shield]