I am writing this post to share a story and some thoughts on taking ownership of problems or situations. I am sure you will relate to it and share your thoughts.
“You broke it Tom! Now, take responsibility, own it and fix it!”
He took a pause, waiting to hear some response from his son Tom, a sixth grader. There was a complete silence! No response!
“Tom, it is your mistake! Admit it! Don’t you feel sorry?”
Another pause followed by a faint voice out of guilt. “I am sorry.”
Tom comprehended the situation as much as he could and he couldn’t say anything more than "I am sorry."
Mike wanted to stop there and move forward. “Well, it’s time. Let me drop you at school on my way to work. Let us go!”
Sometimes we need to stop to move forward. Don’t we?
This whole conversation flashed in his mind as Mike parked his car and moved towards his office waving at his boss Jim, the head of engineering division of a large manufacturing company. An hour later Jim took Mike into a meeting room for a quick conversation.
“Mike, I want you to own this problem. This has been going on for quite some time now! I thought you would take ownership. You haven’t. So, I wanted to talk to you.”
“Well, Jim. This problem was caused by someone else! It is the purchase department. Not us! This requires enormous efforts.”
Jim’s turned his eyes towards a poster on the wall and Mike couldn't stop reading it. It said,
“If something is unacceptable to you as it impacts you negatively and you determine to resolve it, you take ownership of that problem – even if you did not cause the problem.”
Mike smiled and Jim started responding.
“Mike. You are right. We did not create this problem. But we need to own it and resolve it. This in no way indicates that either you or I created the problem. Everyone knows what happened. Those who created this problem are not able to resolve this. They need us.”
And he continued.
“I am not expecting or mandating them to apologize or accept. I want to figure ways to make things better as we move forward. Let us avoid the blame game or finger pointing. Let us plan for the future. And improve the situation here.”
Mike nodded and express his acceptance. Their meeting ended.
On his way to home Mike reflected on his day. He could have been gentle in his conversation with Tom. He wanted to see a responsible Tom who can own and solve problems over the years.
What is your take on Mike's decisions? In a situation like this, what will be your approach? Here are my six points or takeaways.
Owners need not be the creators! Here is the truth. Owning a problem does not lead to any conclusion or inference that you created it. When you decide to resolve a problem you take ownership of the problem. Taking ownership means finding a resolution or resolving the problem. Next time when you have to own a problem, don’t deny because someone else created that problem! Owning and solving that problem may turn out to be an opportunity for you!
Don’t own more than necessary! Sometimes as parents or managers we own more than necessary. Offering advice or suggestions or attempting to influence someone with facts, arguments, opinions, etc., can transfer problem ownership to us. Providing free consultancy or instructions on a specific approach to someone can make us the owner of their problems.
Our friends and family don’t want us to own their problems. They want us to listen and understand.
Own your problems! Kids are used to shedding tears or show anger when faced with problems. When they are not habituated to own their problems, over years they become adults and become manipulative in their responses. They go back to the problem solver to find solutions to their problem. If the solution does not work, they blame the problem solvers who are usually their parents or senior members in the family. The best way is to own your problems and let your kids and team members learn how to own problems.
Own your problems! Learn to respond! Help your folks own their problems. You will struggle, fail couple of times and finally succeed. Unless you own your problems you won't learn problem solving.
Admitting guilt is not enough! Forcing someone to apologize or say sorry is not enough. It has to come from within. I agree. But, admitting guilt is not enough. Focus on what needs to change and plan for a better tomorrow. That will improve the situation. Forcing an adult to apologize does not work anyway. Nothing changes when someone stops with apologizing. There has to be a collaborative effort to make things better.
Leaders raise above the situation! When you are in charge of a situation, take ownership of a problem which is blocking your way. And raise above the situation! It is your problem. Be courageous and solve it! Let me reiterate. Taking ownership and solving it does not mean that you created the problem.
Go beyond problems! It is not enough if you take ownership of problems and solve them. You must take ownership of your strengths. You must take ownership of your accomplishments. You must take ownership of all your good things. That will help you feel positive and amplify your strengths.
In short, take ownership! Why not?
Every One of Us Wants to Arrive!
Learn to Respond!