This is about ownership and communication.
One of my peers posed a thought-provoking question to their team at work today. It was a simple question brought up after a member of their team hadn’t turned in a clients report. When they were queried as to why the report wasn’t submitted, they replied with “I was busy…”.
My peer took a moment to process what they had just heard and then asked another question. “How far into your career do you need to be before you stop making excuses and start taking ownership?”.
The repercussions of not supplying the client with this report were more severe for my peer than for the team member — and my peer made sure to let this team member know. My peer was ultimately the one who had to face the client and tell them their report would be late.
To be clear, the issue isn’t that the report wasn’t submitted. It’s that there was never any communication that the task wasn’t going to be completed in time — there were tasks with a higher priority being attended to. The team member was expecting my peer, who had tasks of their own to complete, to pick up the slack and do the task for them.
The question was candid and direct, but it got the desired response. It got the team member to understand the importance of taking ownership no matter the level of seniority. They then committed to fixing the underlying issue and adjusting their attitude which had lead to the situation.
It must be noted that while these exchanges generally aren’t pleasant, there was no aggression and no unnecessary conflict. It was merely a discussion between a senior manager and a member of their team. The outcome was that the team member agreed to take ownership and ensure the problem wouldn’t reoccur in future.
Instead of funneling the punishment down onto the team member, my peer opted to take this situation as an opportunity to educate their team and to help them find ways to solve the underlying issue around ownership. An inspiring display of professional maturity.
When is it going to end?
I spent some time thinking about this exchange today. I thought about my professional journey. I’ve managed to fast-track my way up the ladder without stumbling too much along the way. I firmly believe that this is as a result of hard work, effective communication (knowing when it’s time to speak and when it’s time to learn), and taking ownership of my wins and losses.
I was lucky to land up where I did with my first job. The culture in the business was one where blame games weren’t tolerated. Where each team member had to take ownership of their wins and losses. We had a sign on the boardroom door that read “Don’t enter with problems, enter with solutions”.
The people I worked with were excellent guides. They were quick to help correct my attitude when it wasn’t in line with what the business stood for. I learned early on that if you don’t take ownership, then don’t expect anything to get done. I often take this for granted.
I continue to see people of all ages and experience levels fail to take ownership as I progress through my career. For both their losses and for their wins. It’s mind-numbing.
The question “When is it going to end?” has a simple answer. It ends when you stop tolerating the behaviour and guide people onto a more desirable path. How long into your career do you need to be? As long as it takes for someone to address it with you.
You’re complicit if you aren’t proactive in taking action to sort the problem out. You’re letting that person carry on without any repercussions and are enabling the less desirable outcomes. Sometimes the person doesn’t even know that what they’re doing is undesirable. You only know what you know. Not addressing the issue with the person is only ever going to end up restraining their growth. This helps nobody.
A senior team member should focus more on guiding a junior team member. This will serve them both better in the end. They need to share their wisdom and experience* to ensure that junior team members grow to be better than they are themselves. Otherwise how would the business progress and facilitate a competent succession of roles and responsibilities?
*Be careful and ensure you’re not coming across as condescending when sharing your wisdom and experience. A condescending tone will result in a negative outcome every time. People are not receptive when they’re being spoken at.
After witnessing the exchange today I was reminded that authority is built through honesty and sincere guidance. Communication is key and is a two-way street when it comes to taking ownership. I don’t know there’s a problem unless you tell me, and if I don’t know about the problem then I can’t help you.
I was also reminded that people aren’t proactive in being proactive. They need an example of what’s expected — a leader who will lead by example. If a course correction is required, then as a senior team member I need to be proactive in providing the necessary guidance. I should not be ignorant and believe that everyone else has had the same experience at the same pace as myself.
After witnessing the exchange, I’ve taken the lessons on board and have committed to finding more effective ways to communicate with my peers and influence a culture of proactive behaviour and ownership of wins and losses. It was a great reminder.
Did you find this post thought-provoking, and have you witnessed similar exchanges in the workplace? If so, what were the lessons you drew from the exchange?
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