I remember one of my favorite business (yes business, not comedy) icons, Lucille Ball, had a sign on her desk that said ‘The Buck stops here’. At age eight I had no idea what that meant other than she had more money than me, and while it was the first time I heard that phrase, it certainly was not the last time.
I have always believed that a level of ownership is needed when given the responsibility of leadership. As a business owner, a sense of ownership is simply part of that responsibility. At the end of the day, it is your business, and is therefore your responsibility. Too many managers and leaders passively pass on this sense of responsibility, even if it doesn’t appear obvious at first. The good old, ‘my PA mixed up your job title’ or ‘that employee bludged off us for the past six months’ happens all too often.
Most of us have worked for a person who had an excuse for absolutely everything. As valid as these reasons may be, that doesn’t matter to those you are leading. People just want to know how you are going to negotiate the next few steps.
There is a large difference between stating the facts or barriers you are facing, and using them as an excuse. To me, the word excuses carries the connotation that factors are ‘out of our control’ and therefore only passive participation is required. I have had terrible failures. Things go wrong, deals fall through, and people who I thought would stick by me in business have walked away. Rather than make excuses, I have viewed these situations as challenges that needed to be faced, and have worked out how to negotiate the best possible outcome for myself, for my business and for my team. Although this is hard, and sometimes I want to say ‘but that isn’t my fault’, I know my responsibility as a leader is to take charge and react appropriately. The reaction of blaming others and shirking responsibility is easily evident in middle to senior management within larger corporations, but the way I see it, if you want the big paycheck you have to deal with the big problems and take responsibility.
While external factors can certainly impede on operations, and we often don’t always know exactly what we are getting with a person we start to do business with –the onus is still on us as leaders to take responsibility for the outcome both good and bad. This means being able to take the accolades, as well as the admittance of error – whether it was a strategic mistake or simply a wrong hire, for example. The fail quick formula makes sense to a degree, but how often do we write off a failure as ‘fail fast because of XYZ factors’ without taking stock at how we ourselves, as leaders, have contributed to its outcome. This needn’t be a self-flagellating time of guilt, but simply an overview of how you behaved, what or who you put in place and an analysis of outcomes. Too often this can be uncomfortable and if we are completely honest, frightening. Who wants to admit they didn’t do enough, or even worse, did the wrong thing. It is already a tough environment out there regardless of industry, so we like to think that we are operating the best way we can. It just also happens to be, in my experience, that there were things I could have done to either avoid a major issue, or at least mitigate some risk. This may have been avoiding the red flag of a colleague who says they are with you all the way, yet never have been able to stick at anything and then bail. Or, it could be the supplier who you know is ripping you off but you don’t feel confident negotiating elsewhere just yet. We all do it to some degree, and if you don’t now, you probably have at some point.
This is something I am determined to work on to constantly try and improve, because those who work with me deserve someone who can be both discerning and fair. There is that old saying ‘You are a leader – act like one’, pretty straight forward advice I plan on taking.
Alexandra Tselios is a business consultant and publisher of The Big Smoke, Australia’s leading opinion site. Alexandra has a diverse background in corporate, public and creative fields and is an expert business consultant.