Extreme ownership and the things to think about when applying it
A while ago, I wrote a text about radical self responsibility, a principle that I, to a large extent, have lived my life by since I wrote the piece.
The key takeaway from the principle, and the piece, is this:
I’m responsible for everything that happens to me, around me and in my world.
Those are big words, but they work. And I was reminded by the principle whilst reading Jocko Willing’s book “Extreme Ownership” of which I’m currently reading the second chapter.
I’ve been hesitant to read the book, mainly due to arrogance in thinking that I already had the concept pinned down, in combination with Jocko’s patriotic manners.
The first chapter however opened some thoughts on what Radical Self Responsibility, or Extreme Ownership, means and what it lacks.
There are two things missing
First of all, Willink and Babin shone some light on something that I was missing in my text, and in the principle I live by.
From my perspective, Radical Self Responsibility meant taking responsibility. For everything. Always.
Since responsibility is a shareware, it’s hard for anyone else to contribute if one part is taking ALL of the responsibility. Willink and Babin described situations where they take responsibility for everything without taking all of the responsibility. Here’s how, by a generic example:
If a team is underperforming by their own metrics, not hitting their goals or not reaching up to their own potential in any way, it’s someones’ responsibility. Someone is responsible for that happening. Sometimes it’s a shared responsibility (a partnership in business and in relations), but it’s someones’.
In a team at work, it’s the bosses’. The ultimate responsibility lies at the top of the organisation.
Here’s where my mind shift happened: If I as a leader or boss take all of the responsibility, I’m not letting other people take responsibility for their own part of the failure. I.e, I’m not letting them see their own short comings.
If I’m letting everyone take responsibility, but take the ultimate responsibility myself, I’m letting people around me step up and become better versions of themselves.
If I’m not willing to let them take responsibility, I’m getting them accustomed to lowered standards for themselves. That ultimately leads to dissatisfaction and bad habits. For everyone.
That meaning, in order for a leader to take ultimate responsibility, there needs to be clear frames and demands. Those can be set fairly, by the help of the other people involved, or be enforced by structures and detail control. The former seems a better solution.
There needs to be room to be gentle
The thing that I think Willink and Babin have got wrong this far in to the book, is involving blame. In clear terms, they’re not the same and I think responsibility is constructive whilst blame is often destructive.
I’ve seen people crumbing under blame, both from themselves on themselves, and from the outside.
In order to encourage responsibility, you need to be able to do gentle with yourself, as my friend Helena would put it.
If you’re not able to do gentle with yourself, you’ll inevitably confuse responsibility with blame, and you’ll implode. You’re not to blame, but you might take responsibility for a situation and see that it’s taken care of the next time it arises.
On the other hand, if you’re too gentle in setting boundaries and demands, you won’t be able to take or let others take responsibility for their own actions.
In short, responsibility is complex. There needs to be a balance between demands and doing gentle. Responsibility is almost always shared and blame should be avoided when talking about it.