Over the years I have become more and more aware of the importance of ownership, honest feedback and to let people experience things themselves. Good or bad.
I have mistaken responsibility to be the same thing as ownership. This is a classic mistake and I still do it. I thought that the person responsible for something just automatically would take ownership for things relevant for his or her role. In my experience this is actually a rare thing to find in people and not something you can expect as a leader. Especially when you have people starting in new positions or if you are entering a new relationship. It takes time for people to find their position and to really get to know each other. It takes time for people to feel safe.
Two of my best friends are army veterans. They have been to Afghanistan where they have experienced things that most of us hopefully never will. Both of them have civilian jobs today and they have managed to go from a hardcore army life to a «regular» civilian one. This wasn’t easy, because the experience they had built up during their years in the army wasn’t that relevant for our society today. Or was it?
One of the things they have thought me is the importance of honest and clear feedback. When they where out in the field in Afghanistan, they had to completely trust the person next to them. They had to know that they could take care of business when «shit hit the fan». They couldn’t just assume things. «Oh, sorry. I thought that..» No, fuck that! In these types of situations it was actually about life and death and they needed to be completely synchronized.
So how can these things be applied to our day to day life and our business?
By open, honest and clear communication. It sounds simple, it’s not. It is so fucking hard! This is why so many companies and relationships never fulfill their potential. Because it takes time, effort and it’s painful.
The tool that the army have created for this is called «hot wash up». They sit down together and they talk thru everything that happened that day or on that specific mission. Everyone takes turn giving their honest feedback to each and everyone. The key point during this session is that people aren’t allowed to respond to the feedback. They need to sit down and take it. They need to shut the fuck up and listen. They need to OWN it.
Does your parents still treat you like you are 15?
How often have your mother or father asked you to do, change or improve something in your life? Probably quite often. They have the best intentions of course and they do it out of love, but they just can’t keep their hands off the steering wheel.
They want to tell you exactly how you should do it and how you should live your life. They give you plenty of advice, and they tell you a lot of stories about their past and all the mistakes they did back in the days, when they where young. They want to stop you from doing the same mistakes that they did and they want you to live the life they never did.
The important thing to remember here is that YOU live your life. YOU. You decide what to do and what not do. Not your parents, not your wife, husband, friend, boss or board. YOU do. It is so fucking important that you keep control over it and that you live your life in the way you think is right. Good or bad. If you make a «mistake». Own it. Fix it. Learn from it. Improve.
Take control and always strive to become better.
The most typical mistake is to just live other people lives, because you dont bother to take the fight and you dont set boundaries for yourself. This isn’t easy to discover either, because it starts small and over time you get used to it. You adapt. You get used to getting told what do to, how do to it and when to do it. You think that everyone is smarter than you. You can feel that something is wrong, but you dont know exactly what it is. The feeling is also difficult to put it into words and difficult to explain.
It isn’t always easy to take control over your life, especially if you are not used to it. It requires practice and it requires you to go outside of your comfort zone. You need to tell yourself that it is OK to try, because you will always learn something from it.
Have you ever heard the expression, «be yourself».
To «be yourself» doesn’t mean that you can act however you want and it certainly dosen’t allow you to stay the same version of yourself forever.
I would therefore like to modify it a little bit and change it to: «Its about being the best version of yourself».
That means that you always need to reflect on the things you are doing, how you are doing it and how other people experience you while doing it. We all have blind spots and it is impossible for us to see our own blind spots. Thats why they are called blind spots. When you get aware of one, you can be damn sure that there are more hiding at the next level. Trust me on this.
Feedback during or after
Feedback is hard, because most people have a built in self defense mechanism and your ego just want you to stay the same. The usual reaction when people get feedback is often to defend or to attack. Most people are not trained to talk about feelings either, especially men. And people that are afraid of conflicts will just shy away. They will never be able to confront their bully girlfriend, boss or colleague either. They just let them get away with it. For months, years and in some cases a whole lifetime. It is sad, but it is true and you know it.
The most difficult thing about talking about feelings is that you need to be able to show courage, vulnerability and respect. If you are the one delivering the message you need to carefully think it thru and you need to be prepared for a reaction. If you are the one that is confronted you need to actively listen to your partner, kid, friend or colleague. What are they really saying and why are they saying it? You need to care and you need to dig deep! (Yes, it takes time!)
You might think that you are a good listener, but that is usually not the case. People are often more interested to get their own points thru than to listen and understand the person they are talking to.
«Practice to be the last one to speak»Simon Sinek talks more about this in this youtube video.
The scary and difficult thing for me sometimes is that I can feel when people just responds to the things that I am saying because they dont want to seem stupid or that they are afraid to talk about the subject you are bringing to their attention.
I often fall into the trap of expecting people to read my mind and that they clearly see what I see. This is so wrong and it is something that I’m constantly trying to improve.
When someone have misunderstood something that you have asked them to do, you really need to dig deep and to see if there was anything that you could have done better. Maybe you should have spend more time on that conversation or that email. Maybe you should ask if the person clearly understand the point you are trying to make, the task or if he/she could repeat back to you their plan going forward. Maybe you should have spent more time explaining everything in detail and why you ask them for help to do this specific thing.
One of the most difficult and scary things is actually to ask for feedback. «Is there anything I can do to improve?» This requires guts and courage and the ability to show vulnerability. Still, it might be one of the most powerful moves and steps you can take towards becoming the best version of yourself and to become «THE» very best.
Ok, back to ownership. How do you manage to keep control over your own life and how do you manage to get people to take ownership?
The key to get people to take ownership for something is to get better at asking questions. You also need to stay the fuck away and avoid the classic mistake of just doing it yourself. You need to get them to understand how important this is for you, your company or your relationship. You need to sit down and discuss things until you have agreed that this or that is the best way forward and the best solution. And most importantly, you need to trust them and you need to let them do it.
You need to stop pressuring people into doing things that they dont want to do or to do it «your way». You need to let them do it in their own way and at their own pace. The result might not be perfect, it might take 10x the amount of time, they might even fuck it up. Or you might even be surprised and experience that they have solved the task much better than you and that they have exceeded your expectations.
The thing about ownership is that when you have people taking ownership of something, they don’t do it by command, memory or out of fear. They hunger for it, they grab the task before you even get to ask. They really feel the responsibility in their stomach, heart and soul. They need to control every detail and every possible outcome. They HATE when things slow down, stop or if they get the sense of loosing control. They do everything in their power to get the best results and they put their whole reputation on the line.
I like to call it an «ALL IN» mentality.
Its quite the opposite with people that doesn’t feel an ownership. They focus on covering their own ass and playing it safe. They spread around themselves with doubt and fear. They are never to be trusted in the time of need and in the aftermath they will never admit to any of their mistakes. Hence they can never become their best self and they will always be the weakest link in your organization. You can see a clear example of the two here, in the classic, «300».
When you have a team that have clear roles and ownership, you can accomplish anything. They will focus and dedicate 150% of their time and effort to bring the organization forward. They stop at nothing. They dont need to look left or right, because they completely trust their team / colleagues and they know that they are doing the exact same thing. You function like a unit and like an organism.
Like fear, ownership and trust also spreads and manifests over time.
When you get a culture, team or a relationship to this point, you can move mountains. You can win any battle. You can overcome any challenge in your life. You can develop world leading products and you can accomplish world class results thru out the entire organization.
The easy part is that it starts with you. The rest is achieved thru long-term hard work and dedication, and by having the courage to show vulnerability and to talk openly about feelings.
Jonas Helmikstøl – CEO