Since I started riding a motorcycle, the most popular comment among friends and family is: "I'm not worried about you; it's everyone else on the road." I remember hearing the same when I was learning to drive a car. Had I not gone through the motorcycle training course, I may have shared this sentiment. Now, it feels like a hopeless outlook.
I get it, though. It's another way of saying, "I trust your ability, but not the million other drivers out there." But at the same time, it suggests that I am the victim of my surroundings, and if something goes wrong, there's always someone else to blame.
I prefer to adopt a different perspective: I am in control. No matter what comes my way, the outcome will come down to what I did or didn't do.
When I flick the starter on my bike, I'm encouraged by this mindset. It invites me to do everything in my power to ensure a safe ride. Taking this level of ownership also provides an opportunity to learn and improve, rather than blaming conditions that are "out of my control" and repeating the same unwanted outcomes. It's the difference between blaming the driver ahead of me for stopping abruptly and admitting that I was following too closely behind. The former teaches me nothing. When it comes to leadership, I believe in the same approach.
Leadership means taking ownership over your decisions and actions, and as a manager, those of your team.
The other night, I took my wife, Dana, to try a local restaurant to celebrate her birthday. We ended up chatting with the rmaître d' who was filling four or five roles at once due to being short-staffed. He and just three other employees were serving 100-some guests on their own. He mentioned that they have had a tough time finding experienced help and went on to tell us a funny anecdote about a young kid they recently hired. Let's call him Sam.
On Sam's first day, the maître d' asked him to go around the restaurant with a pitcher of water. So, that's just what Sam did. No, not filling any cups — simply walking around with the pitcher.
It's no surprise that the maître d' was frustrated. He vented to his manager, who replied with this: what did you ask Sam to do? The maître d' realized it wasn't Sam's fault; it was his own. He hired Sam with little experience. Eager to do a good job, Sam loyally followed the maître d's instructions to a tee.
The maître d' sat in silence, regretting the harsh feedback he had already given Sam. By taking ownership over the impact of actions, the maître d' saw an opportunity to improve his communication with all the wait staff, chat with Sam and help him get better.
I can empathize with the maître d' on many levels. Whether it's an employee poorly handling a client situation or a project going off the rails, it's easy to place blame and analyze everyone else's behavior. However, when I stop and look at my involvement, I always find there's more to gain.