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See the Problem, Own the Problem

Earlier this week, while on my daily walk, I was listening to the On Leadership podcast with Scott Miller. His guest for the episode I was tuned into was Admiral William McRaven. (here’s a link) During the episode, Admiral McRaven, known for leading raids on Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and others, along with being a best selling author, shares his philosophy about failure. Through a quote from George Washington Carver, “99% of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses”, McRaven says he believes that great leaders understand the need for Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D. Because when it all goes south, and it will, he wants someone who can see the problem, fix it, and learn from it. Not someone who makes excuses and points the blame elsewhere. Enter the wise words of my friend and colleague, Tom Cody.

See the problem, own the problem.

We all have times when things don’t go according to plan. When that happens, we simply have to acknowledge what has happened and diagnose ways to fix it and avoid it happening in the future. Yet, so often, leaders will point fingers or give excuses for why things turned out the way they did. What are some ways leaders can avoid falling into this trap?

  1. Plan for things that can, and likely will, go wrong: Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Plans are funny that way. Don’t make your plan one dimensional. Plan for time challenges, personnel challenges, budget shortages, and other things that could get in the way.
  2. Talk it over as a team: when building a plan, you should not be doing it all by yourself. Use your team. Lean into their expertise and creativity. Have them brainstorm ways the plan may go off the rails. When multiple sets of eyes and brains are working to poke holes in the plan, you’ll likely account for most things that could cause problems.
  3. Temper expectations: As the phrase says, “under sell, over deliver.” When you promise the moon, you darn well better deliver. I’m not saying you should state that your plan will bring minimal results. Rather, have a conservative estimate with your eye on a much bigger and better outcome.

Finally, when it does go awry…OWN IT. As Admiral McRaven says “if you do fail, your job as a leader is to say it’s on me

See the problem…own the problem


Have a #RoadToAwesome week


The entire month of May, the Leaning into Leadership podcast will be dedicated to aspiring and new school/district leaders. Each week’s episode will have a special guest and a very specific topic. I am releasing special mid-week episodes all through the month. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss any of this awesome content!

This week’s guest on “Leaning into Leadership” is a new high school principal in Nebraska, Adam Stolzer.

Road to Awesome: The Journey of a Leader is now available. Click here to purchase the autographed copy.

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