The Blame Game

I started following Jocko Willink on Twitter a year ago after I heard him interviewed on the Tim Ferris podcast.  He is pretty intense and inspirational.  He posts a lot of pictures of his watch at 4:30 am before his workout and then the results with sweat all over the floor under a barbell.  Hooyah.  I’ve had a few workouts like that, but not every day.  Yesterday I stumbled on a TED talk where he talked about the nobility of “Extreme Ownership” (which is also his book title), how it is affected by the fog of war, friendly fire and owning your mistakes.  It’s 13 minutes and a must watch for anyone in business.  I wish I could get the Fido senior leaders to watch it.

At work, I always take responsibility for my mistakes.  Several years ago we had a project come in pretty late and I got dinged for it.   But I owned up to the fact that my estimates for designing the solution were far understated and when things started going bad because of extraneous factors, I did not raise awareness.  One person got fired.  Others moved on.  I stayed and it hurt my career for sure.

Under heavy pressure, we took a risk.  If you take a risk and you get punished for admitting a mistake, then that is not a place you should work.  Jocko just made me realize how poignant that fact is.  I didn’t blame a lot of people who deserved blame.  We tried to hit an aggressive timeline and we missed.  No one died.  Yet in the most severe case, in a truly life AND death experience, in the military where people are always held accountable, he took ownership and was not penalized.  What does that say about where I work and the mentality of “stretch” goals, taking risks and working hard?  With only modest positive results for a successful risk (aka hitting your goals) why would I ever take a risk again?

As obvious as the work case, you have to take Extreme Ownership in your personal life too.  Last year in the midst of a rough time, I learned that I was not REALLY taking responsibility for all my actions.  I always felt that I owned up to things I did and said or often said incorrectly.  But what I noticed is that I very frequently used the expression “I’m sorry if…”  I want you to burn that expression into your consciousness.  Listen for it when polititcians apologize.  Or when you do.  Or colleagues.  What I learned is that no matter what you intended, you actually DID something.  There was a result of your action.  Cause and Effect.   The “if” becomes a copout and negates the apology.  It’s blaming something else, something intangible.  It puts the responsibility somewhere else.  You aren’t owning anything when you use “if”.  Often “if” is followed with “you”.  How often have you heard “I’m sorry if you were offended by…”  That puts the ownership squarely on the other party.  That is wrong.  There is no “if”.  As Jocko put it, taking Extreme Ownership should hurt.  It hurts your ego and your pride.  But if you are a person of character, you own it.

What punctuated this concept for me is that Jocko noted that when you do it correctly, Extreme Ownership has benefits up and down the chain of command and those around you.  His men took full responsibility for their individual actions.  Most importantly, what he enabled was them to do their job without the burden of being the leader and being responsible.  The ultimate responsibility was on him.  Up the chain too, his commanders recognize that he was actually doing his job, in the good and the bad.  He owns both.

For friends and family around you, when you take Extreme Ownership of your actions and their result, regardless of intent, I promise you, people will believe in you and trust you and care about you in ways they never have before.  Don’t spread blame.  Own it.  Check your ego at the door.  I constantly have to watch my words and the impetus to say “if” is strong.  The game I now play is in noticing it in others, and when I hear it, I see them as weak.  I see them as petty, looking for an out.  Be strong, play the game.  You will find that you win, when you take ownership of each loss.

About Josh Rutstein

I am an aspiring entrepreneur and hopeful political candidate. Father of 2 very special girls, husband to an amazing woman, and passionate American. I snowboard whenever possible and follow a 20x mentality for exercise. I also play golf and ultimate frisbee and am a die hard New England Patriots fan and season ticket holder. Everyday I wake up wanting to make this country a better place, someday I hope to actually succeed.
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