There are several topics or phrases that prompt me to launch into a passionate mini-speech, things like radical candor, checklists, habits, essentialism, and principles vs. rules. “Extreme Ownership” is another one. Since it’s come up multiple times in conversations around Candoris, it seems like an appropriate time to summarize a few things.
Extreme ownership is a fairly intuitive concept. It means taking responsibility for our actions, decisions, and failures. It means acknowledging reality in all circumstances and that we stop wasting time fretting about the way things are. It means not waiting around for someone else to address an issue or solve a problem that I have the power to solve. It means taking initiative, being proactive, and thinking ahead.
This is an easy concept to grasp but a difficult one to consistently practice, especially in a team or group setting. It’s so easy to become passive and let others step up. In its extreme form, this shows itself when we say (or think), “that’s not my job,” or in all kinds of other excuses about why we can’t do something. Much more common is the situation where we get busy and subconsciously rationalize why it’s not that bad, why we don’t have time, or why the status quo is good enough. What seems like a fairly innocuous thing is really a sinister and damaging attitude that can become commonplace if we don’t intentionally weed it out and avoid it.
A related concept is the tragedy of the commons – basically, it’s when we act in our own interest without regard for our teams or those around us. It favors short-term thinking at the cost of long-term results. It’s when nobody is willing to take ownership of the big picture priorities because everyone is focused on personal priorities.
Here are a few practical ideas for how we can be more intentional about practicing extreme ownership:
- The way we do anything is the way we do everything. Recognize that it’s not just about work. This is something we should practice in our relationships, how we approach health/fitness, and in everything else that we do.
- Ask “when am I going to demand the best of myself?” and acknowledge where you are taking extreme ownership and where you are just mailing it in. Then do something about it.
- Is it clear or just sort of clear? Seek clarity on who owns the project, the customer, or the problem we are trying to solve. We are all familiar with the upfront contract but we often fail to practice it. By agreeing on what the issue is and who is taking ownership, we avoid ambiguity.
Thinking about the way we use our time and the way we work and lead can guide us towards greater clarity on our opportunities to focus intentionally on the things that make the most impact. Our response and reaction to our circumstances are our responsibility, and practicing Extreme Ownership will most definitely reap benefits in our personal and professional lives.