image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe title of this post is drawn from the book, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. These warrior heroes do an outstanding job relating the lessons from life or death circumstances to our significantly safer corporate and business pursuits. The lessons on ultimate accountability and the many examples and approaches of leadership in action are incredibly relevant for all of us.

The theme of “extreme ownership” is an appropriate clubbing over the head that you as the leader own every problem, miscue, misfire and general problem on your team. It’s not the fault of your team members if something goes wrong, it’s your fault as the leader. If the results fall short, it’s not because your team members failed, it is because you failed to plan, clarify, communicate, teach, train or guide execution properly.

Too many of us are quick to point our fingers when it comes to explaining why something misfired. Just a few of the many excuses for poor performance I’ve encountered in the past few months:

  • “Corporate did not provide us the investment we need,”
  • “The budget passed down from on high was unreasonable,
  • “The mid-market sales team failed to execute their plan,”

In all three cases, it is the leader’s  job to execute the assigned mission, regardless of investment and personal opinion of the budget. As for the team, if they failed, it’s the leader, not the team.

This tendency to assign and not own fault is a failure of leadership and leadership character.

The next time you are tempted to look around and explain why something on your watch failed, stare into the mirror and own up: “I failed. It was my fault, and here’s what I am going to do to fix it going forward.”

We need more extreme ownership in this world.

The phrase, “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate,” is a wake-up call for any leader dealing with a poor performing team or one of those brilliant but toxic characters that are found in almost every workplace. We allow problems to linger or performance to suffer, applying duct-tape and band-aids and a heaping helping of hope, and when nothing improves, we grow frustrated, looking for others to blame for the shortcomings and shortfalls.

Part of extreme ownership is recognizing that we truly do get what we tolerate. If we tolerate the aberrant and toxic behaviors of one team member, we will end up with a dysfunctional team. If we apply different standards of accountability to groups or individuals, we will get varying levels of suboptimal results.

Ironically, I see this leadership and accountability issue manifest most often at senior levels, where many CEOs struggle to get their direct reports to play nice together in pursuit of strategy and execution. In reality, the CEO who is struggling with this issue has made it clear that she tolerates lack of unity.

The results never change when you tolerate something less than high performance.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

In a world filled with finger-pointing politicians, broke state and city governments and vexing global challenges, it can truly be said. “we get what we tolerate.” Whether it’s in business or in our public institutions, let’s adopt an extreme ownership mentality to promote positive change. Anything less is a prescription for failure.

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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