General Business

Keys to “Owning It”

As part of the “Small Business Lessons in Leadership” series, Steve Adubato and Mary Gamba are joined by Paul Di Maio, General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer, Delta Dental of New Jersey, Inc., talking about work-life balance, succession planning and managing a hybrid team. Then, Steve and Mary talk with Michele Acito, DNP, NP-C, Executive VP and Chief Nursing Officer, Holy Name about the nursing shortage, employee morale and burnout.

I’m fascinated by the critical question of “taking responsibility” or as I’ve come to describe it as “owning it!” As leaders—even the best leaders—we make lots of mistakes. We do things we regret. We mess up. We make bad decisions. I wonder why? Obviously, it’s because we’re human beings. “Perfect” leaders just don’t exist because perfection is an illusion, not to mention the definition of perfection is highly subjective. But members on our team also make mistakes, and the best leaders understand the need to “own” those mistakes as well. Following are some keys to “owning it” as a leader:

No excuses. When things go wrong, it is far too easy to start making excuses or trying to explain our way out of things. Most of our excuses are pretty lame, even when it comes to something as simple as late night snacking or our less-than-constructive responses as a leader when things go wrong. Nobody cares about our excuses. Instead, when you are up front and own the mistake, you can quickly move on and focus on a solution, rather than focusing on the problem.

You are responsible. Yes, that’s right. You are responsible for the quality of the work of your team and the mistakes that they make, even if you didn’t have a direct hand in that mistake. Whether it is a typo in a proposal, missing a deadline or some other way a team member fell short, as the leader of your team, you must “own it” with the key stakeholder or client and communicate specifically how you are going to make things right.

Regroup with your team. Once you have set things right externally, a very candid and real conversation needs to take place within your team about what went wrong, why it happened, who “owns” it internally and what exactly must be done (by when) to do all that can be done to make sure the “mistake” is not repeated.

Share the credit when things go well. While leaders must take responsibility when things go wrong, they must also go the extra mile to share the credit when things go right. If your organization has a great fiscal quarter or a client reaches out to say how pleased they are with a particular product or service, acknowledge and recognize the individual team members who played a part in making that happen. This not only makes those individuals feel valued, but it sends the message to the entire team that you appreciate their efforts.

Don’t Point Fingers. What is even worse than not taking the responsibility yourself is pointing a finger at others. It can sometimes be tempting to deflect or throw someone else under the bus when things go wrong, but as soon as you do that, people on your team will trust you less, which will create a toxic work environment. Instead, model the behavior you would like to see of your team by asking questions, listening, and then moving on to a solution.

Taking responsibility is a sign of strength. Too often, leaders in the public eye perceive admitting one’s mistakes as somehow a sign of weakness, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It is the strongest leader who takes full responsibility for his actions, words, and mistakes. So, the next time you or someone on your team makes a mistake, “own it” quickly. Doing so will help you gain the respect of your team and send the message that you are all in this together.

Related Articles: