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EXTREME OWNERSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY


“Trust is earned in drops and lost in buckets.”   

- Kevin Plank; Founder of Under Armor


Pat Summit is one of the most successful and respected coaches of all time. She led the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team to 8 National Championships and 18 Final Fours. Much of her success and the way she ran her program was built on accountability.


In a quote, Coach Summit said, “Accountability is essential to personal growth, as well as team growth. How can you improve if you're never wrong? If you don't admit a mistake and take responsibility for it, you're bound to make the same one again.”Being accountable means taking responsibility for your decisions and actions.


Jocko Willink is a retired US Navy SEAL officer, author, podcaster, and leadership instructor. In a Ted Talk that has been seen by over 7 million people titled, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” he focused on the importance of taking full responsibility for your actions and outcomes. 


He talks about the importance of taking full ownership of our lives.


Jocko shared the story of a specific mission he led during the Iraq War where a series of mistakes and human errors led to a devastating friendly fire incident. Instead of blaming others or allowing his men to take the blame themselves, he took full responsibility for the entire mission. After doing this, Jocko said his commanding officer, who had expected excuses and finger-pointing, trusted him even more.


When his men saw that he was willing to take full responsibility and would never pass that burden down the chain and onto them, they took on the same attitude.


He transformed his team and career by taking full, extreme ownership and accountability of a failed mission.


On teams where no one takes ownership of the problems, the problems never get solved. When a team takes ownership of the problems, the problems get solved.


Accountability can be broken down into 5 stages:


1 - IT WASN’T ME | I DIDN’T KNOW …


In this stage, you don’t own any accountability or responsibility. You completely deny any part in any and all of it, no matter what role you played. This is the easiest way to lose trust with the people around you.


2 - IT WASN’T MY FAULT


In this stage, you acknowledge the fact that you did something wrong, but you place the blame on someone else instead of owning your thoughts and actions. Not owning your part or role also decreases trust.


3 - THEY MADE ME DO IT


In this stage, you own your actions, but you blame other people for making you do what you did instead of taking complete ownership of what happened. Character is who you are, and if your character changes based on who you are around, it isn’t very strong.


4 - I WOULD HAVE / COULD HAVE … BUT …


In this stage, you blame your lack of action or results on what someone else didn’t do. Sometimes this is accurate and you could have done more with more support, but was there more you could have done?


5 - I OWN IT


In this stage, you completely own your part without passing any of the blame to anyone else.


In his story, Jacko completely owned his part in the failed mission, even when he didn’t have to. There were times and opportunities for him to say, “It wasn’t me,” or, “That part wasn’t my fault,” but he didn’t do that. As the leader, he took all responsibility and was rewarded for it.


These stages aren’t black and white; there is a lot of gray area embedded in each stage. But this can be a good place to start when addressing accountability issues.


THE 2 A’S


In my time as a teacher, coach, and principal, I learned that when something bad happens, most people want two things: ACKNOWLEDGEMENT and ACCOUNTABILITY.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT


Acknowledgment simply means accepting or admitting something happened. If something happens, you fail to do something, or you struggle in a certain area, the first step is acknowledging it. Nobody is perfect, so don’t make a problem worse by being blind to it and not being willing to admit or acknowledge your weaknesses or role in something that didn’t go as well as it could have gone.


ACCOUNTABILITY


Accountability is the acceptance of your role and responsibility in what happened. Own your part. When you own an issue or a problem, it shows that you believe in your ability to fix it and shows yourself and others that you are willing, able, and determined to do so.


When I was a school administrator, I heard author Floyd Cobb say, “90% of parents who are upset with something that happened at school just want two things: acknowledgment and accountability. They want you to acknowledge something happened, and they want you to hold yourself and others meaningfully accountable.”


When dealing with conflict, we would say, “We acknowledge that something happened, and we will work hard to hold ourselves meaningfully accountable.” We even put a sticky note on our desks with words ACKNOWLEDGE AND ACCOUNTABILITY written on them as reminders.


ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNERS


An accountability partner is someone you join forces with to achieve a goal. They provide support, and motivation, and keep you on track with your commitments, and they can also help you climb out of the pit when you are struggling and don’t know what to do next.


Having somebody that you can trust, lean on, help you stay accountable, and who can help you when you aren’t doing everything you can or need to take action can be a difference-maker for you.


Every great head coach has great assistant coaches motivating them, supporting them, and providing feedback. Who is the great assistant coach in your life helping you stay accountable and helping you when you aren’t?


Accountability or thinking partners can help you when you feel stuck. Get unstuck by having people in your life who can help you identify ways to climb out of the pit.


WHEN YOU MAKE A MISTAKE OR NEED TO TAKE ACTION 


1 - Acknowledge what happened or needs to happen.

2 - Hold yourself accountable for your role and responsibility.

3 - Determine the next best step or action to take.

4 - Identify teammates or assistant coaches who might be able to help you, how, and engage with them.

5 - Act - do the next best thing.


Trust is earned in drops and lost in buckets. You earn that trust every time you do what you say you are going to do, acknowledge when you don’t, and hold yourself meaningfully accountable. You lose trust when you don’t.


Make it your number one goal to be the most accountable person you know. 


Know you aren’t perfect, and know that nobody expects you to be. Make it okay for the people around you to not have to feel that they have to be perfect either by acknowledging your mistakes and imperfections and by being the first person to hold yourself accountable.


SOMETHING(s) TO THINK ABOUT


1 - When you make a mistake or don't perform up to your full potential, how well do you hold yourself accountable for what you did and didn't do?

2 - When is it easiest for you to acknowledge your mistakes and hold yourself accountable?

3 - When is this hardest for you?

4 - Who is someone you can lean on or rely on when you are struggling with accountability issues?


For a printable PDF version of this post, click here: Extreme Ownership and Accountability

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