The leadership choice: two paths available in every situation

In today's article I want to offer you a simple model to better understand how the choices you are making are impacting your impact as a leader.

In any situation or challenge that we face we have two paths available to us.

The first option is to look at what we did not have, that stopped us achieving the outcome that we wanted. For example:

  • we didn't have enough support from our colleagues
  • we didn't have enough time
  • we didn't have a clear strategy from senior management
  • we didn't have a timely deliverable from marketing
  • we didn’t have the necessary resources (funds, headcount,…)

On one level it can be completely understandable to identify these gaps.

But this leads us to deny or ignore our own responsibility in this situation or to blame others. In turn this leads to us rationalising and resisting our own contribution meaning that we end up hiding away from taking responsibility as a result, nothing ever changes and we find ourselves on an incremental trajectory.

You can see this represented in the figure below. I call it the victim loop.

The Victim Loop

The ownership loop

The other response we can take is owning the situation fully. For example,

  • I didn't make adequate time for this
  • I was not able to convince marketing to provide the level of support I needed
  • I didn't establish clear agreements and commitments from my colleagues which meant that they didn't deliver on time
  • I moved forward on this project without extracting the clarity that I needed from my boss about what success needed to look like

The advantage of taking this radical ownership is that suddenly we can do something about it. We can learn from the situation.

At this point, it's worth saying it's also important to forgive yourself. Some of us have a tendency to beat ourselves up about any perceived imperfection or failure. But if we do that, then the idea of taking this path of ownership is going to become increasingly unattractive and painful.

Instead take the stance of neutral observation: don't beat yourself up about it but simply observe what happened and curiously inquire what you might want to do differently next time, seeing this is simply part of the journey.

With all that done you can move into action. Instead of being a difficult situation it now becomes a gift.

This second loop is the leadership loop of ownership and accountability. Put together, we can see the Leadership Choice available to us in every situation:

The Leadership Choice

Ownership Accelerator (and the easy way we choose the ‘victim’ loop)

You’ve taken the path of ownership many times, because every successful leader has risen to where they are because of their ownership of situations, issues and topics.

However, all of us take the left-hand loop more often than we think. How often do we complain about:

  • not having enough time?
  • being late for meeting because of the traffic?
  • running late because someone kept us on another call?
  • not having the authority or resources to achieve our goals?

I was on a call with some clients recently. I'm running a program called Ownership Accelerator with the top leaders of a high growth innovative business. We started by talking about this simple framework, and everybody rapidly understood it.

About half an hour later, one of the managers raised their hand and asked how they could possibly take ownership when their manager kept vetoing their ideas and proposed projects…

…I pointed out that this was a perfect example of taking the left hand path!

Perhaps the real questions for that manager were:

  • how can I influence and persuade my manager of the merits of my ideas more effectively?
  • how can I become more aligned with the bigger picture of the company so that my ideas are more relevant?

Have a look in your own life and leadership right now and identify one or two areas where you are blaming others, ignoring your own actions, or denying there is an issue and then look at what the right hand path might look like.


PLUS, whenever you're ready, why not hit the accelerator on your journey of exponential impact by working with us, or by picking up a copy of Making TIME For Strategy?

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