It’s easy to tell yourself or your teammate to “take ownership” of a problem or situation.

But how do you actually do that? How do you “take ownership” of something?

Here are the 4 steps to take ownership of a problem.

     I recently published a review of the book “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, which is a phenomenal book. Without diving deep into the details (click here to listen to the full review), the book talks about how to be an effective leader who “takes ownership” of a situation to lead and win. It’s simple and powerful.

     If you’ve listened to any modern motivational or leadership instruction media lately, you are likely to hear the commentator tell you to “take ownership” of your life, of your team, of your relationship, or pretty much anything else in your life. Ownership is a buzzword right now, and for good reason! The concept of owning a situation, taking responsibility, and doing whatever it takes solve the problem is inspiring and powerful. We all want to be known as a person who owns a vision. We all desire to be part of a team that doesn’t shirk responsibility, but meets challenges head-on and solves them. On the contrary, we have all seen leaders, politicians, and athletes blame other people and not take responsibility for their actions or a problem, which is disgusting at times.

     So with all this talk of ownership, how do we actually go and do that? Unfortunately, you can’t just say “I take ownership”, and BOOM, your problems are solved (I’ve tried, it doesn’t work). There is a process to actually taking ownership, and it is worth following because the end result is actually doing something meaningful.  Check out these 4 steps below – I’ve thought hard about each of these. As a bonus, I’ve included you can answer and apply to become a person who takes ownership.

Problem Mapping

First things first, you have to define your problem. But it’s more than just saying “this is my problem”. I use the term “mapping” because it is critical to understand every aspect of your problem, which means stepping back and observing the entire situation. You need to know what is causing the problem, who/what is involved, what are the obstacles, what is in and out of your control, and what the future effects are if this is unsolved. Think about a military general planning to invade a city. He doesn’t plan his attack only by looking at a dot on the map. He understands the roads into and out of the city, knows the terrain features, considers the mountains or rivers that might be obstacles, and ultimately understand every aspect of the environment before acting.

What’s your problem or vision?

What caused it?

Why is it an issue? What are the effects?

Who is involved?

What happens if you don’t act to resolve it?

Admit Fault & Responsibility

This is THE MOST IMPORTANT step of the ownership process. If you want to take ownership, you must admit, and believe, that you are at fault (or responsible) for the outcome of the matter at hand. We usually like to shift blame to something else, like our co-worker, the economy, the government, or any other million things – because it’s easy. We also might like to artificially say “I take full responsibility” because it makes everyone back down since blame has been placed somewhere, even though you don’t really mean it. But the problem with shifting blame away or artificially taking responsibility is that it does not motivate you to do anything.  If you don’t internalize and believe you are to blame, you don’t feel a sense of obligation to act. You will be willing to stop, give up, cut corners, or just not do anything if you don’t BELIEVE you are at fault. Taking ownership means internalizing the fact you are to blame and are responsible for arriving at the solution. You might not have directly caused the issue, but as the leader, you still must decide that it is your fault.

How are you at fault for this problem?

How did your actions (or inaction) create this problem?

How is this your problem and no one else’s?

Solve and Decide

This is the fun part, and where you “earn your pay” as someone who takes ownership. Figure out what needs to happen to solve the problem. It’s a good thing you spent time mapping out the problem in step 1 because you can ensure you address the entire issue. Your internalization of the problem will motivate you to find the solution, and do whatever it takes to achieve victory. You don’t have to think of the exact solution on your own, but you need to facilitate the solution development overall. And good news! It doesn’t have to be the exact or overall best solution, since often times we don’t know what the best course of action is. A 70% solution that is executed now is better than a 100% solution that is never executed. You are responsible for the issue and solution, so stop waiting. Just make a decision and go. We can course correct along the way.

What do you need to do to solve this?

Who can you bring in to give you advice?

What essential research or knowledge do you need?

What resources are required?

When is your deadline to make a decision?

How will you communicate your decision?

Checkpoint Evaluation

We rarely know what the perfect course of action is when we address a problem. And contrary to popular belief, we don’t need the correct answer right away. You almost always have the ability to tweak your plan and change your approach as you progress. The most effective way to course correct is by establishing checkpoints that measure your progress along the way to your end goal. You need to efficiently identify if you are on the correct path before it’s too late. For example, if you think it will take you a month to make an improvement, set up a checkpoint in the middle of the month to look for signs that you are actually moving in the right direction. Maybe you’ll find you are on the right track, or perhaps you need to adjust course.  Better to tweak something along the way before it’s too late, and it’s definitely a much better approach than not acting in the first place.

How can you measure your progress to the end goal?

What is your “half-way point”?

What are the dates you can evaluate your progress?

Do you need ownership in your organization or personal life? Bring Andrew to your organization or sign up for a personal coaching workshop. Let’s do Big Things!