…taking responsibility, not making excuses.” – Mitt Romney
This quote has been attributed to Mitt Romney, the 70th Governor of Massachusetts and 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee.
It’s timely for me because this weekend I scheduled a conference call to coordinate the planning of an upcoming major life/social event: Due to the large number of participants involved with the call (greater than 20), however, I used a different channel to facilitate the discussion than I ordinarily would.
Logistical challenges and technical difficulties ensued.
My immediate reaction here was annoyance – surely the technology was to blame for these challenges! As seconds turned to minutes (and finally over a half-hour) with no resolution, however, my feelings of annoyance shifted to 1. You see, there are few things I find more insufferable than incompetence. I take pride in the amount of behind-the-scenes work I put into everything I do; and so while we all occasionally fail, in my personal experience inadequate preparation has seldom been a causal factor in situations where failure has been the outcome.frustration and (finally) mortification. 1 The call was a bust.
Okay, so how to handle this failure in management and leadership?
The answer was to be found in a manifestation of Romney’s above quote that I witnessed early in my career:
The company I worked for at the time had just undergone a large scale reduction in force. A significant percentage of the workforce was laid-off as part of enterprise wide cuts, and in the immediate aftermath morale and engagement were very low: With the layoffs over, our leadership faced the challenge of guiding everyone to a new normal. My department at the time was summoned to a meeting designed to do just that. Then – with many people’s emotions running high – our function’s head addressed the group.
…This wasn’t a situation that could be made better with words alone, and the leader didn’t try to make it so. Instead, he acknowledged the failures on his end that had contributed to the reduction in force. There were many other contributing factors as well, but he didn’t mention them at all. Instead, after taking ownership for what happened he pledged to make our function better then ever before going forward, outlining an action plan detailing how he would do so.
Not everyone present that day walked away engaged or satisfied with what they heard, but I think everyone appreciated the leader’s authenticity and willingness to take responsibility for what had transpired to bring us to that point. And when he followed through with the action plan he outlined that day over the coming months, he earned both my respect and that of many others in attendance at the time.
2. As you can see, some of my biggest leadership failures still involve conference call coordination…I have never led a large department 2, but I have nevertheless internalized the lesson embodied in Romney’s quote and demonstrated by my department’s leader that day:
Don’t make excuses for your failures. Take ownership for them happening on your watch, and take responsibility for making things better.
As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.