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More than 40 years ago, Dale Miller conducted a study that compared two groups of executives.
One group was identified by their colleagues as highly effective and ready for promotion. Individuals in the other group initially seemed promising but were later deemed unready for an advanced role.
During evaluation, each group received a deck of 62 statements describing management behavior and was asked to sort the statements on most effective versus least effective leadership qualities. After the first group finished sorting, the top behavior they selected was this: “accepts full responsibility for the performance of the work unit.” This phrase was chosen above delegation, staffing, time-management, or even technical skills.
The primary difference between these groups? Those primed for high-level leadership took full ownership over the team, its cohesiveness, and final project outcomes.
Practical Ways to Practice Personal Responsibility
“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Many people who enter management are willing to accept the benefits of their position without fully embracing the pain points of this role.
Modern society often views leadership as self-serving, with the needs and desires of the individual taking priority over those of the team. But effective leadership primarily benefits the followers, not the leader. People who put the team’s needs above their own will achieve maximum influence and increase efficiency and effectiveness in their organization.
What does it look like to embrace a results-based perspective in your leadership? Ultimately, this starts with a mindset that says, “I am the person who must make this happen.” This goes beyond merely completing a task to a wholehearted commitment to the company’s best interests, including doing things for which there is no immediate reward. Do you turn off the lights if you are the last one in the building, or do you assume the custodian will do this? Responsible leaders use organizational resources with great care; they take the long view and see their own well-being as intrinsically linked to this organization’s success.
On a tangible, daily level, here are several ways successful leaders take personal responsibility:
— Asking, “how can I help?” instead of “what does that have to do with me?”
— Sharing credit when things go well but acknowledging personal shortcomings when a team fails
— Proactively seeking honest feedback about personal performance
— Acting as a buffer to protect the team from unreasonable demands on time, resources, or output
— Delegating tasks (using clear job descriptions) while avoiding the temptation to micromanage
— Being willing to forego being one of the group (or everyone’s “buddy”) to accept the social stigma of leadership
— Encouraging people to take responsibility for their own roles by highlighting the importance of what they are doing and how these efforts tie into the bigger picture
— Breaking large ventures into small steps, so people feel proud of their progress (rather than overwhelmed by the magnitude of a project)
— Ensuring team members have the resources needed to do their job (including training, equipment, access to mentors and coaches, etc.)
— Documenting poor outcomes and intentionally communicating them to struggling team members so positive changes (or eventual termination) can occur
Empower Yourself and Encourage Others
While taking responsibility can be difficult, it is also empowering.
Pursuing this results-based mindset allows you to take ownership over a situation and avoid feeling like a victim. When you take ownership over your role in every situation, you become an active participant, not a passive bystander. You are a trustee of these intangibles, and this empowering attitude helps others move forward in vitality – even when they’ve forgotten how to believe in themselves.