Taking Ownership And The Responsible Leader
If you’ve been in the business world for any length of time, you have undoubtedly come across people who blame others for their mistakes.
It’s an unfortunate product of our human nature to shift blame and make someone else the scapegoat for our errors. Our mistakes come in a variety of manners:
- Making an error and outright blaming another
- Referring to “the system” or “our policy”, something that is not a person and can’t defend itself
- Accusing others for not knowing something that was never communicated
- Taking small matters and embellishing the situation to make oneself look better and another look worse
Showing that you’ve made a mistake carries a (supposed) stigma of weakness, fallibility, and loss of reputation. When a leader refuses to take ownership for their actions, the opposite is actually true, as they suffer from all of the above as well as a loss of trust, respect, and credibility.
A leader who shifts blame that would otherwise fall on them divides trust and working relationships with their customers, staff, and professional relationships. When blame is attempted to shift to another, the recipient is then put on the spot and into a position of defending an unfounded claim. They then in turn start to distrust the leader who originated the blame, which causes a rift in the relationship. It becomes an unproductive cycle and can invariably lead to entire companies not doing business because of one particular individual.
Many studies have shown that leaders who own up to their mistakes and take ownership for their actions set in motion a culture of trust both internally among their people and externally through their clients and business partners.
For a leader to admit their own mistake and take action to confess it, remedy it, and the resulting impact on others, there needs to be a humility and willingness to take the extra steps towards correction.
Years ago I was a new director at a retirement community. I was reviewing policies and after some discussion made a company-wide change to enforce a slight change to a long standing policy. Within 24 hours after that, I received a good amount of negative feedback because their were other variables involved that I was simply not aware of. I could have stuck to my guns on this, as I felt justified in the decision, but decided to review the policy even further. After a few more days, I made a more Solomon-like decision that pleased everyone and was a more fair application than previously.
I started the changer by admitting I was wrong for not understanding everyone’s stake in the decision or some of the other factors involved. I then explained the new changes and asked everyone in the company to accept my apology and thanked them for their feedback.
What resulted was that I received more praise from my apology than criticism of my initial changes. It enabled me in my first 30 days to establish a platform of listening, trust, and respect that enabled us to enhance our culture and create a better community for residents and staff.
By taking ownership, you exhibit a willingness to learn and grow, and unleash a culture of allowing others to do the same. When accountability starts with self-accountability, people tend to do likewise and it removes the barriers of pride and scapegoating, and allows others to continuously learn from their mistakes – and others – and eagerly adjust in the careers and develop their skills more relevantly.
Leaders, taking ownership is a powerful ability that is sorely lacking in today’s organizational climate. Be willing, be authentic, be accepting of your own shortcomings. Then go out and make it better.