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Management Tactic #10: Take Full Responsibility

February 8, 2009

skyscraperlovely1Everyone makes mistakes. From the lowliest subordinate to the CEO of the company, people are bound to mess up every now and then. When you make a mistake, the key is not so much the mistake itself as it is how you present yourself afterwards. There is one thing you can do that will distinguish yourself from those around you:

Take full responsibility.

What does that mean? It means when you realize you’ve made a mistake, the first thing you should do is tell all those involved–especially your superiors–that you take full responsibility for the mistake. No matter how big the error, you’ve just done something bigger. You’ve taken all of the responsibility. Not 50% of the responsibility. Not 75%. But 100%.

Situation 1

You’ve been designing a new website for a client over the last few weeks. Pleased with your work, you submit it early by putting it online before getting approval from your client. You call your client to tell him to check out the site, and he points out that you used the wrong shade of brown for the main banner.

Response 1: Don’t Take Full Responsibility

You: Um, I’m not sure how that happened. Someone in the art department must have made a mistake.

Client: I didn’t ask for an excuse. It simply needs to be fixed. This is the worst day in the history of my company. I shall spit on your grave.

Response 2: Take Full Responsibility

You: Sir, I’m so sorry. I take full responsibility.

Client: Thank you. It’s just a minor mistake. What are you doing Saturday night? I’d like you to spend some time alone with my of-age daughter.

As you can see, taking full responsibility makes a big difference. You can even take full responsibility for mistakes that have nothing to do with you. Doing so extends the breadth of your power and influence. See this next example.

Situation 2

The janitor in your building didn’t show up the previous night, and the bathroom has run out of toilet paper. You’re reviewing engineering specs when you hear your boss storm into the common area. A few people gather around and try to comfort him. You realize what happened, and you approach the group.

You: Mr. Stern, everybody, I take full responsibility for the bathrooms.

Mr. Stern: I appreciate your upfront attitude. Since everyone’s here, I’d like to take this opportunity to inappropriately announce that you’re getting a $100,000 raise and a promotion to the position of Best Guy Ever, effective today.

Everyone applauds and high-fives you.

Random Coworker (Future Layoff): Does this guy have anything to do with the bathrooms?

Three simple words could make or break your career. Do the right thing. Take full responsibility.

Also see:

Seven Traits of Highly Effective Leaders

#2: Run Your Meetings Like Obama

#3: Shame

#4: Fear

#8: Compassion

#14: Dolphins

#15: Promoting Bathroom Etiquette (a posting for any office bathroom and a posting for stalls where people don’t flush)

#22: Alcohol

#29: Geriatrics

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Tolles permalink
    February 8, 2009 11:16 pm

    Now picture “client” being a guy with a heavy Japanese accent. It’s funnier that way.

  2. February 9, 2009 12:21 am

    The scenario you’ve mentioned is nice, but I have to say it’s far from reality. Assuming that the client will always have a positive answer when the PM takes full responsibility is not the best way to go.

    A safer way to do it is sharing the accountability with your team (I’ve linked to an article about the subject).

    These things (delays, mistakes by the team) happen all the time, will you always take the full blame? Don’t you think that at one point the you will lose your credibility in front of the client.

  3. February 9, 2009 8:05 am

    PM–

    Thanks for your comment. In my post, I greatly exaggerated the results of “taking full responsibility” to point out that merely saying “I take full responsibility” doesn’t really mean anything if you don’t back it up with results. Otherwise it’s an empty statement, and you clearly won’t get the responses I provided in the situational examples (which were exaggerated for humor).

    Your point about sharing accountability is interesting. I think there’s a difference between responsibility and blame–saying “I take full responsibility” is not the same as saying “It’s completely my fault” (I would stay away from saying the latter). “Responsibility” insinuates that not only have you discerned the problem, but you’re doing something to fix it.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. Kai permalink
    January 16, 2010 1:47 am

    Dude, I have been reading some of your leadership posts tonight. And what a night which filled with alcohol, pranks, and poops.

    I found this blog a couple weeks ago and loved it! And it was talking about… you guessed it! POOP! Read the one posted on 1/15/2010

    http://cakewrecks.blogspot.com/

    Jas
    1/16/2010 at 12:45 am
    sleepy and currently unpleasant to be around

    • January 16, 2010 3:22 pm

      Ha ha…it seems like the theme behind that site is that brown icing looks like poop on cakes. I’ll make a mental note not to do that.

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