When I worked at Internet Matrix, I observed how the owner solved problems. I endeavored to solve problems like that. You do not need to be an owner of a company to act like an owner. It feels good to say, “Yeah I’ll own that!” especially when it is a problem you might have caused yourself. It can be tempting to want to avoid responsibility and not be blamed or judged for a mistake. Mistakes are going to happen. If you are not taking risks, then you can’t contribute meaningfully to the world. Own it when you do screw up.
The formula is simple. I know you might be thinking, “I have to own all the problems now?” No, own problems that are in your control to fix. I run and manage a platform that people use to get their work done. Perception is critical. Anything besmirching the interpretation of stability or resiliency becomes an urgent problem. When an issue with the platform occurs, I jump in to understand the issue and to communicate what my team and I can offer for help. People seek to see their problems owned and not immediately resolved. Software engineers know some issues are expensive, time-consuming, or require a workaround. When you demonstrate ownership, you acknowledge there is a potential problem. You then communicate what you are going to do about it. You also share the expectation of when you will follow up again. Demonstrating ownership defuses blame and frustration. Your job as an owner is to keep people focused on improving future interactions, and not dwelling on the past.
What you do not want to do is try to solve everyone’s problems for them. As much as you can, within reason, empower the people bringing up problems to solve that problem. “Boss, we do not have documentation on X”. “OK, can you write that up by our next meeting?” "…Oh sure. Simple as that. Don’t be a hero and try to solve everyone’s problem for them. Coach your team to be problem solvers themselves. Your team will learn and practice skills they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to when you solve problems for them.
Coasting each week and sleepwalking through meetings is easy. What is hard is confronting reality and acknowledging many projects will never be completed or funded. As John Wooden said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”. Why keep discussing wasting everyone’s time on activities you are not willing to fund? If you want to lead, take a stand and point out the obvious. Observations are a master coaching skill. When you notice a problem and bring it up without judgment they can self-reflect and decide how they want to change their approach.
The only projects that matter to your company are the ones you assign to someone that can start and finish them.
Nothing feels better than acting as an owner of a problem. Owning problems will set you apart. Saving you from time wasted spent on blame and excuses that lead to nothing constructive.
- Own the problems that are in your control to fix.
- Acknowledge there is a problem.
- Plan how to resolve it.
- Execute the plan.
- Communicate what is happening to interested parties.
- Empower others to own their problems and to find solutions to those problems.
- Take a stand for ownership with those around you and notice when ownership and accountability are not happening.