I’ll never forget it. We were reorganizing and my boss put two of us in the same job, Rick and me. It seemed odd. But Rick is a smart guy and he was….the boss. So we forged awkwardly ahead trying to keep the swim lanes as clean as possible. About two months into it, something went wrong in Rick’s shop. When our boss questioned him about it, Rick told him, “Karen dropped the ball.” A few days later I was called into my boss’s office. He told me that Rick was gone and that I now owned the function entirely.
My boss was being a bit of a Solomon. He was testing us both and the test came in the form of taking responsibility. What our boss was looking for was a key element of leadership: taking responsibility for what goes on under your oversight. True, Karen might have dropped the ball, but Rick was responsible for Karen and her work. This same thing happened with the Secret Service recently and its former Director, Julia Pierson.
It doesn’t take major events, though, for this challenge to show up. It can be as simple as being late for a meeting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say something like, “I’m so sorry I was late. Traffic was really bad.” Think about how weak that sounds. Here’s what I hear:
- “I’m not responsible enough to plan ahead and use technology like GPS.”
- “You weren’t important enough for me to make sure that I arrived on time.”
- “My time is more important than your time.”
- “I don’t take responsibility for my actions; I blame them on external factors.”
- “I’m a victim of my circumstances.”
So, next time you’re late or drop the ball for some reason, simply apologize and state that you should have gotten it right. For example, “I’m sorry for being late; I should have arrived on time.” In most cases leave it at that. Don’t make excuses. Own it! It’s what responsible leaders do.