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Great%20Leaders%20Own%20Their%20Mistakes%20Leading%20On%20Purpose%20newsletter%201-5b82bbc0 Great Leaders Own Their Mistakes

Great Leaders Own Their Mistakes

08 May 2024

Uh-oh. A mistake has been made. The director of marketing starts looking around the boardroom for which employee they will blame. They couldn't possibly walk into a meeting with the CEO and take full ownership of this error.... Or could they?

If you haven't read Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, I highly recommend you check it out. The book is written by two U.S. Navy SEAL officers who led the most highly decorated special forces unity of the Iraq War.

Extreme Ownership emphasizes taking full responsibility for one's actions and decisions, both individually and as part of a team. By adopting an "extreme ownership" mindset, readers learn how to proactively tackle challenges and drive positive outcomes.

While the book draws heavily from military experiences, its principles are applicable across different domains, including business, sports, and personal development.

Leaders are encouraged to take ownership of their actions, lead with clarity and humility, and strive for continuous improvement.

My coaching and team building/bonding facilitating style stems from everything I've learned along the way. This includes the many books I have read on leadership, talent retention, personal development, and collaboration.

I teach that leaders must embrace ownership of outcomes, demonstrate vulnerability, and embody authenticity. This perspective underscores the fundamental principle of effective leadership:

Leaders bear ultimate responsibility for all outcomes.

At the heart of effective leadership lies the recognition that leaders bear ultimate responsibility for all outcomes. The key distinction lies in discerning when competence is critical and determining the tolerance level for specific behaviors over time.

When do you admit "I made a bad decision"?

When do you say "Tom was a bad hire"?

Great leadership take ownership of mistakes. If Tom continues to cost the company money, a true leader understands that the responsibility lies with them. Recognizing that Tom should never have been hired in the first place is not just about accepting responsibility; it's about demonstrating ownership in conversations with co-workers.

When deciding what to do with Tom, the leader has to figure out if it's a will issue or a skill issue. Skill can be coached, whereas will cannot.

If it's a will issue, you don't complain about Tom's repeated failures; instead, you let him go and ensure that during discussions with subordinates, you take responsibility for the hiring decision. You acknowledge that it was your responsibility to find the right person for the job.

In doing so, you also demonstrate vulnerability. You let your great employees know that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, even executives. This alleviates the burden on their shoulders, knowing that when mistakes happen, accountability will be taken, and the organization will move forward towards success. It assures them that not every mistake will result in disciplinary action or a major confrontation.

Here are a few examples of leaders who have publicly taken ownership of their mistakes:

  1. Howard Schultz: As the former CEO of Starbucks , Schultz demonstrated accountability during challenging times for the company. In 2008, during the financial crisis, he openly acknowledged mistakes in Starbucks' expansion strategy and took steps to rectify them, including closing stores and refocusing on core offerings.
  2. Indra Nooyi: The former CEO of PepsiCo has spoken openly about her leadership journey, including instances where she made mistakes. Nooyi has discussed decisions that didn't go as planned, such as product launches that failed to resonate with consumers. She emphasizes the importance of learning from failures and adapting strategies accordingly.
  3. Warren Buffett: The legendary investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway has spoken openly about his investment mistakes over the years. Buffett has admitted to errors in judgment, such as investing in companies that later underperformed or missing out on lucrative opportunities. He emphasizes the importance of humility and continuous learning in the investment process.

Where is the line?

How do you demonstrate your fallibility while maintaining the confidence of your team? I don't have an easy answer to give you. Maintaining authenticity is important to keep team trust. So, as a leader, you have to find the line. You might make mistakes during this experiment and overshare or you might maintain a distance and not be vulnerable enough. But now you know the importance of taking responsibility for those errors and demonstrating to your team that experimentation is not only accepted but encouraged!

For more on this topic, check out these blog posts: