To lead is to serve… Own it…

“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”

Jocko Willink

“Extreme Ownership” has become one of my favorite leadership books of late because it does such an exceptional job of capturing and conveying one of the most foundational principles of leadership. If your first reaction is to point a finger anywhere other than yourself you are not a leader, you have surrendered those rights.

Conversely, if you are the first to take the credit and seek glory when there is a win, you are also not a leader. The team creates wins.

So, the essence is when it doesn’t go well, it is your fault. When it goes right, the team gets the glory. This is leadership…

The competitors that truly matter…

“If you want to find the real competition, just look in the mirror. After a while you’ll see your rivals scrambling for second place.”

Criss Jami

Every morning ask yourself these two questions. Am I better today than I was yesterday? Will I be better tomorrow for what I going to do today?

If the answer to the first question is “no” then you have established your competition for the day. You have to do whatever it takes to drive yourself forward in a manner that allows you to answer the question differently tomorrow!

If the answer to the second question is “no” then that is a full-on indictment of what you have planned for the day. How are you investing your time? How are you approaching your tasks and challenges? Where do you need to reset the bar so you can push yourself to do more, learn more?

There are so many dimensions of our lives that these questions can, and should be applied to on a daily basis. They touch all of the building blocks that go into creating a successful life. Physical wellness, mental health, career/vocation, hobbies/advocation, family/friends, spiritual alignment, etc.

Each of us has a unique and special set of these dimensions based on our God-given gifts and talents, unique experiences, skills and education, etc. What good does it do to spend your energy trying to compare yourself to someone else? You don’t have their building blocks, and they don’t have yours.

It is great to use the competition as a measuring stick to establish a baseline comparison set for your performance and growth. But the real magic happens when you adopt a mental state of beating and exceeding your own limitations. Raise your bar. Don’t let someone else set that bar for you. Don’t be limited by the competition!

Am I better today than I was yesterday? Will I be better tomorrow for what I going to do today?

Don’t waste the precious gift that you have been given today. Choose to live life in a way where the competitors that truly matter, the pale shadows of an unfulfilled and incomplete self, are left far behind you.

boy running on pathway
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Look in the mirror…

“We cannot lead anyone farther than we have been ourselves.”

John C. Maxwell

The essence of leadership is influence. The ability to influence the lives of others and create a commonality of vision and purpose. The results of effective leadership are alignment, engagement, commitment, execution, etc.

What does this have to do with today’s quote? Good question. To create influence, which enables the ability to create the desired results, one must show an ability to demonstrate self-leadership and self-influence. All the vision casting and talk about the future is worthless if you can’t demonstrate through your actions and behaviors a commitment to hold yourself to a higher standard.

crowd reflection color toy
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I love how the picture above illustrates the importance of self-reflection as a leader. If you want to have influence you must be willing to look in the mirror and see and understand your own opportunities for growth. If you want to influence others, you have to prove that you can lead yourself first. You can’t lead anyone if you don’t walk the talk and lead by example.

This is the wisdom that I take from today’s quote. You must have self-reflection as an intentional practice in order to create true influence with others. You can’t lead anyone if you won’t lead yourself first…

Set your own bar…

“‎Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself-and be lenient to everybody else.”

Henry Ward Beecher

If your most difficult master to please is yourself then disappointing others should be the least of your worries. It amazes me how much time people spending worrying about what others think instead of holding themselves to a higher standard.

The challenge becomes learning not to transfer that same high standard to everyone else around you. But then an inverse of the sentence above applies. Instead of worrying about the standards others have for themselves lead by the example you set for yourself.

Set your bar, exceed that bar, raise the bar and do it again. Don’t waste time worrying about the standards others set for you, they won’t set them high enough…

The man in the mirror…

“The best kind of accountability on a team is peer-to-peer. Peer pressure is more efficient and effective than going to the leader, anonymously complaining, and having them stop what they are doing to intervene.”

Patrick Lencioni

The key to accountability is the willingness to be wrong. Are you willing, and able, to look in the mirror and say to yourself, “you were wrong, you could or should have done or said something differently.” This is is easy to say, but incredibly hard to do, especially when emotions are involved.

Does your identity revolve around being “right” or “doing what is right?” If it is the latter then you have a tremendous leg up on 99% of the world where the default state is to point the finger at someone or something else and say it was “their fault.” If you are focused on doing what is right then that will guide your actions and make self-accountability and ownership much much easier.

I like to think of peer-to-peer accountability as an incredible opportunity to recruit others to help “watch my six” and offer insight and perspective to ensure that what I think I am saying and doing is actually what is being conveyed. Others can become the “accountability mirror” that help you own your behaviors and actions.

To build this degree of trust though is a two-way street, if a person is excellent at delivering sage advice and perspective, but can’t receive it in return, and action on it, then their insight and input will be limited because trust is limited. Foster those relationships that will tell you what you really need to hear, even if you don’t want to hear it, and seek the same from you in return.

To do this, you have to seek it out, and you have to be willing to be wrong. Accountability is ownership, and you are always the owner, 100% of the time…

How do you measure up?

“The ability to accept responsibility is the measure of the man.”

Roy L. Smith

Who is accountable? Ultimately we each are at an individual level. Sometimes it just takes the passage of time for the fog to clear and for us to see that our own actions, or inaction’s, have conspired to create a situation or circumstance.

I have found that the most successful, and the happiest, people in life are those that live with an attitude of exceptional responsibility or ownership. A given situation or circumstance might not cause them to have joy or happiness but they own how they respond to it and do not dwell on what happened to them. Instead they focus on what they can do, and sometimes that is simply to accept what they cannot control.

So how do you do this? How do you live life in this manner? Embrace these questions honestly and with a clear willingness to either admit fault, or take accountability.

  • What could, or should, I have done that would have changed the outcome?
  • If I had this to do over again what would I do differently?
  • Where did I miss something that might have helped me make a better decision?
  • What can I learn from this to make better/different decisions in the future?
  • How have my actions, or inaction’s, created this situation?
  • What lesson is God teaching me? Or perhaps said a different way, what is God preparing me for through this journey?

The bottom line is this. We are all responsible for the actions of our lives. We are responsible for how we treat others. We are responsible for every word that comes out of our mouths and every thought that passes through our minds. To be responsible we must surrender the need to be in absolute control and practice an attitude of learning and accountability. If you can’t do this, your unhappiness is your fault.

Why & What, Not Who…

“Ownership: ‘A commitment of the head, heart, and hands to fix the problem and never again affix the blame.”

John G. Miller

So much energy is lost in this world by pointing the fingers at others. Blame is a pervasive and insidious leech that sucks the energy from where it truly belongs, the solution.

To combat this and instill ownership in your thinking focus on the “why“and the “what” never the “who.” Focusing on whom to blame is a recipe for negativity and wasted efforts. Instead ask yourselves these questions when faced with a problem or a challenge.

“Why” – Why did this happen? Why are we here where we are today?

“What” – What are we to learn from this? What are we going to do about it?

I guess there could be an appropriate use of “who” but instead of in the context of “who is to blame” it should be “who can help solve this problem?”

Make why and what the key focus and put blaming others completely out of your mind. It is a waste of time and leads to pervasive negativity. Life is too short for that.

Four fingers…

“When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing at himself.”

Louis Nizer

I have written before about the power of ownership and owning vs. renting. The attitude of ownership says that one has some type of control over EVERYTHING that happens within their world. Is this literally true? Of course not, you can’t control the weather. But you can control how you dress for the weather or what activities you are taking part in.

If you can’t define the outcome of some situation or challenge, you can choose how you react to it. Choosing to point fingers and make it someone else’s fault is sidestepping both responsibility and accountability. If you want to live a life that embodies the ownership ethos then start by examining the four fingers that are pointing back yourself. That is where the power of growth can be harnessed. No ever grows or improves by pointing a finger at others.

I could kick myself…

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Are you honest enough with yourself to be able to deliver that kick? Can you take 100% ownership and accountability and then do something with it?

Change begins by taking responsibility. Period. If you don’t like something, change it. Don’t bitch, complain, or moan. No one, and I mean no one, wants to hear that crap. It isn’t anyone else’s fault. It’s not the fault of the cosmos or the situation. Dig deep, understand where you contributed, deal with it. If you don’t, then you are going to owe yourself yet another kick…

Accountable to our own standards…

“The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.”

Ray Kroc

You have to set higher standards for yourself than you do for anyone and everyone around you. But standards alone aren’t enough. You have to hold yourself accountable to those standards, and do so publicly, if you want to lead others effectively. There is no quicker way to undermine your own leadership than by being a “do as I say not as I do” leader.

We are all going to fall short at times and fail to meet our standards. We are human, it’s going to happen. However that isn’t an excuse, we have to be self-accountable before we can hold others accountable. Amazingly enough, when can be transparent enough to publicly show our shortfalls, and how we are going to address them, our leadership influence grows.

Ownership starts with self. Leadership starts with self…

Expectations vs. Recommendations.

“When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable — if there are no consequences — that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards.”

Jocko Willink

I have long held to a simple yet effective three step formula of leadership responsibility and accountability.  

  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Coach, Train, Provide Feedback to those expectations
  3. Hold accountable to the expectations

It is the leaders responsibility to ensure that his or her  team understands what is expected of them, that the proper coaching and training has occurred, and then that absolute accountability to those expectations has been enforced.  

Without enforcement then any expectations are merely recommendations, coaching and training is a waste of time, and accountability doesn’t mean anything…  

Accountability starts with self…

“Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame.”

Courtney Lynch

On of my long-time favorite mantras is “fix the problem, not the blame.” Instead of investing your effort into finding out who who is at fault, and why they are accountable, focus on what happened and what is needed to fix it.  I love the way this quote frames out that accountability is a result of leading by example.  You can’t have accountability if the leader doesn’t walk the talk by accepting responsibility.  This seems so obvious, yet rare in practice.  
It is far easier to try and “hold others accountable” instead of first focusing on our responsibility as leaders for the outcomes and engendering an ownership mentality.   If you want to create a culture of accountability, take responsibility for the results.  
Accountability starts with self…

Do you own, or do you rent?

“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.”

Pat Summitt

Ownership.  What does it mean? Think of the difference between renting a home and owning a home.  When you rent, you treat the home differently.  You don’t worry about the little things, you don’t put the extra effort in to care for or protect the property.  For example, you might ignore the roof that only leaks when it really storms, or the sink that leaks on occasion.  Maybe instead of ignoring the problem, you just call someone else, the owner, because it isn’t your problem.  You don’t have to fix it.  But if you own the home you pay attention to these problems.  You know that if you don’t address them quickly it is likely to become far worse, and much more expensive to repair.  

If you are the owner, you write the checks.  And by checks I don’t just mean in terms of money.  You have to fix the problem.  You are accountable for how you, the asset, the team, the organization performs.  It starts, and stops, with you.  You must look to yourself first before you look to others, regardless of fault because you are responsible and accountable for fixing the problem, whatever that problem might be.  

Have you ever heard the saying “drive it like a rental?”  What exactly does this mean?  It means when you rent a car you don’t treat it the same way you would if you owned it.  You don’t have to care about the maintenance, what it is going to drive like next week, next month, next year.  You don’t have to care because you aren’t accountable for your decisions, or in some cases the lack of a decision.  The rental car won’t be your problem in the future. For renters it is someone else’s problem.  Even if you caused it…

We all have an active decision make, do we own or do we rent?  This project, this initiative, this team, this relationship.  Yes, sometimes ownership sucks.  It isn’t fun to have to fix problems, especially if you caused them, whether intentionally or not.  But it has to be done, because if you don’t, who will? If you don’t look inwards first with self-awareness and reflection and have the accountability to own it, you are just renting your space as a human and a leader.  Don’t be a renter…

building metal house architecture
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