(This is Part 1 of Leadership Principles)
“Your words haunt me Sir. Every time I see a piece of trash on the ground, I hear your voice in the back of my head ‘remember – if you see it, you own it.’ I must have picked up fifty things since I last saw you.” Those words were sent to me via email by a fine young cadet at West Point. I met him while I was a mentor at the Military Academy’s annual National Conference on Ethics in America. The conversation we were having was about your responsibility as you move through the world. A belief I’ve always held true is when you see a problem, you own the problem.
Now I recognize the limitations of this maxim. I see global warming. Do I own it? Well, not all of it but I do have some burden there. I can at least recycle or even start a recycling program at my company if it doesn’t have one. Enough with the abstract examples. Let’s move to the real world. The best leaders I’ve worked with have a mindset that they are responsible for making their organization better whether that work falls within their job description or not.
Some of the weakest leaders I’ve seen use organizational silos as a defense for not fixing a problem. “Gee, I’d love to help but that problem is in so and so’s organization.” Nice job of stepping up pal. I’d much rather work with and for the person who instead says “That looks like a big issue over there. How can I help solve it even though it’s not in my area?” You get the picture.This mindset pertains to all problems big and small. Whether it’s a discarded soda can on the front walkway at your company headquarters or a large profit shortfall in a major business unit, you owe it to yourself and your team to help in any way you’re able (even if that only consists of pointing the problem out to the true “owners” and asking how you can help. By the way, simply pick up the soda can and put it in the recycling bin. And if along the way, you find your company doesn’t have a recycling program, well… you know what to do).
This approach also helps your business grow. Have you ever had the displeasure of calling a company when you have a problem only to be handed off multiple times to someone else who can’t help you until you finally give up or lose your temper? I’ll bet you’re not a customer of that organization anymore, are you?
When I was responsible for customer service for almost 500,000 customers, I tried to embody “you see it, you own it” in every customer interaction I had. While it wasn’t often a customer’s call made it to my desk, when it did, I was the last person they talked to. I now owned their problem and its resolution. I would define the problem and what the customer would view as a satisfactory solution. I’d provide them my contact information and let them know I’d get back to them. I would then make the necessary calls to our operating units to get to an answer. I’d follow up with the customer and put them in touch with the manager who was going to deliver the solution we agreed upon.
You’d be amazed how many customers reacted favorably and gave us another chance because of the way we (I) personally handled their issues. I know sometimes we can’t give the customer exactly what they want (and sometimes I’ve even “fired” customers for being too demanding – more on that in another post).
Leaders who demonstrate their personal commitment to making their world and their organizations better will find others gravitating to them. It speaks volumes when the CEO is “human” enough to bend down and pick up a piece of trash – even when no one is watching. You can have a similar impact. Leadership starts with you and how you carry yourself. Others are watching. When you demonstrate you care, they will too.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC