by Peter Barron Stark
My father used to tell me a great story about a disgruntled construction worker. Every day at noon, the construction worker would sit down, open up his lunch box, pick up his sandwich, take a bite, and then blurt out, “Oh crap, not bologna again.” One Friday, one of the other construction workers finally said to him, “Hey, why don’t you tell your wife to pack you something different for a sandwich?” The construction worker shot back, “Mind your own business. I pack my own sandwich.”
All of us, at times, have packed our own sandwich. Maybe you know or work with someone who seems to be continually burdened with bad luck or constantly having bad things happening in their life. Maybe you have an employee working for you who has one performance-related issue after another. People who experience repeated problems tend to reject solutions that might improve their situation. Plus, if you offer help or provide a solution to solve a problem, they’re quick to tell you why your idea is wrong or won’t work in this unique situation. As simple and logical as these solutions sound, some people still find them incredibly difficult to put into action.
Take a look around at these constant complainers. Do they have many others following them? Actually, they do. But, they aren’t usually the people you want following you as you strive to be a great leader. People who love to complain and blame others love to follow other negative, complaining people. It’s one big pity party.
One characteristic that defines great leadership is the ability to admit mistakes, take responsibility, and then complete the actions that are necessary for building a better tomorrow. Taking full responsibility for your life and your team is an important step in becoming a great leader. The responsibility is yours and you are accountable for your life and the areas that you lead. Although you may not always have full authority over everything you lead, you’re responsible for producing the desired results. Recognize that no one else is coming to rescue you, and memorize this mantra: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
Here’s how you can focus on taking full responsibility and create an environment where you are a well respected leader:
Focus on responsibility, not blame: There are some people who invest all of their energy in placing blame whenever they’re faced with a challenge. My favorite example of this is people in their 30’s or 40’s who blame their place in life on their mother or father. They should realize that their parents did the best job they could with the skills, characteristics, and DNA they were given. In our seminars, we ask the question, “What do you accomplish by blaming a problem or loss on someone?” Most participants respond with, “Nothing.” This sounds accurate but it’s actually far from it. Sometimes people assume that as long as they can find someone to blame, they’re absolved of the need to take responsibility until the ‘guilty’ party fixes the situation. This is an unhealthy view and won’t get them anywhere. Great leaders take action and spend very little of their time blaming others.
Set goals: Put simply, a goal is the action of looking at your life or team and saying, “I think I/we can.” To be successful, goals must be specific, measurable, time-bound and be accompanied by a solid plan for achievement. One of the most amazing things about goals is that when you set and achieve them, you begin to feel a sense of mastery over your life. Eventually, you begin to believe you can do anything and find it even easier to take responsibility.
Let go to propel forward: In the world of high wire and trapeze troupes, it’s common knowledge that you can’t grab the next trapeze bar until you’re willing to let go of the first bar. For Encyclopædia Britannica, that first bar was the continually expanding, hard-bound books of knowledge that they maintained since 1768. The company has made several major transformations, but the biggest leap came in February 2012, when they announced the decision to discontinue the printed version of the encyclopedias. Only time will tell whether they have successfully grasped the 2nd trapeze bar that is digital, but they had no choice. For them, it was either sink or, let go and grab that second trapeze bar. Once you’re willing to let go of what’s no longer working, you can propel yourself and your team to what’s beyond the horizon.
Take action quickly: It’s almost impossible to take action on improving your life or your team while simultaneously blaming someone else. The first is a thought process and action that moves you forward while the latter leads to inaction because it hinges on the errors of the past.
Admit mistakes: When something goes wrong and your desired goal isn’t achieved, don’t fret, there’s a remedy. The best solution is to admit mistakes, accept responsibility, and take the necessary actions to improve the outcome. A beautiful thing happens when you admit a mistake: you remove the target from your back and it becomes harder for others to keep blaming you for negative outcomes. After all, a defensive attitude makes it a lot easier, and for some, even fun, to keep blaming you.
Admit when you don’t know: Having the ability to say, “I don’t know,” shows people that you’re human and motivates them to help you find a solution. Once you admit that you don’t know something, you gain the ability to ask questions, listen, and learn. As an added benefit, people like you a whole lot more when they’re talking and you’re listening.
Get excited: Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “There is little traffic on the extra mile.” This is true among many disciplines. There are few people who get excited about taking responsibility and making a positive difference in the world. Look at it this way: every time you hear someone complain and blame, you’re presented with an opportunity to take action and stand out as an exceptional leader.
Celebrate success: While this post is all about taking responsibility and action, it’s also important to celebrate successes along the way, both big and small. When you take responsibility for the outcome, recognize the contributions of others and celebrate the successes, you’ll be a respected leader who’s easy to follow.
To grow accountability and responsibility on your team, you must first be the role model that others want to follow. Personal and professional accountability and responsibility always begin with you. Remember, there’s no one else coming to your rescue.
Peter Barron Stark Companies is a nationally recognized management consulting company that specializes in employee engagement surveys, executive coaching, and leadership and employee training. For more information, please visit http://www.peterstark.com.