by Jared Johnson June 12, 2019 6 min read
It was a nice, sunny spring afternoon in Upper Michigan. My wife and I were driving down the road with a portable basketball hoop in tow for my oldest sons upcoming birthday. Our destination was my in-laws camp.
In case you aren’t familiar, many people in Upper Michigan own a redneck cabin they call a camp, in addition to their regular homestead. They’re often times hodgepodged together, with your distant cousin’s basement couch in the living room, and some tacky hunting decorations lining the walls. Around hunting season, the camps are swarming with people, who primarily drink Hamm’s and PBR’s with their buddies, and spend a little bit of time out in the woods stalking prey. I mean literally, half the towns shut down at hunting season.
I poke fun, but I am half serious. There are lots of nice camps too, one of which is my in-laws. It’s not exactly high end, but it’s got a nice clean cabin feel to it. Anyway, my wife and I were headed there, because, you see, my in-laws had been out of town for a while, and no one had checked on the camp in a while.
We pull down the long driveway into the camp, and my wife suddenly realizes, “Oh shoot! I forgot the camp keys!” This presents a problem, because this camp has had some moisture issues, and really needed to be checked. I don’t exactly recall what I said at the time – I was pretty annoyed and frustrated. All we could do was peek through the windows and hope we could see good enough, which as you’ll soon read, we obviously could not. Mind you, running home and back would have taken nearly two hours, and meanwhile other people were babysitting our two oldest kids.
My wife obviously felt bad about it. I think I had enough sense to (mostly) keep my mouth shut, but the exact details are fuzzy. She might give you a different side of the story.
Fast forward to Memorial weekend; we wanted to spend the extra day I had off from work at the cabin. So we mosey into the cabin with a full size SUV, 4 kids, enough stuff for the weekend, and a Great Dane crammed somewhere in there. Serious, Yukon’s can fit the kitchen sink and more in them.
I walk into the cabin, and am greeted by stuffy, mold-ridden air. A quick check reveals the bedrooms are fine, but the carpet in the dining room has white fuzz on a lot of it. The nearby lake water levels are super high, so the unsealed concrete foundation is likely just sweating with moisture. Well, we can’t sleep here. Memorial weekend isn’t going to be fun,I think. But I can’t just leave it either. So, after consulting with the cabin owners, we ripped out the section of carpet that was problematic, turned on some fans, packed everyone up and went home.
While I was tearing out the carpet prior to leaving, my wife and I had an exchange that made something click for me. “If I hadn’t forgotten the keys that day, this wouldn’t have happened. I feel so stupid!”, she said. My primal instinct jumped at the opportunity to blame her, but thankfully I didn’t say anything. I just tried to think it through.
Was it her fault? I mean, typically it was her responsibility to keep track of those keys. But the day prior to our key-forgetting incident, we had discussed the plan (in addition to camp and getting portable basketball hoop, we had a couple other errands to run at the time too). I knew she didn’t keep the keys on her. It was an easy mistake.
I could choose this moment to drive a wedge between us, blame her, and put a damper on the entire weekend. But then I remembered something I had read in a book by former Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink. There are no bad teams, just bad leaders.
“But!”, you object, “your wife obviously forgot the keys! It’s clearly her fault!” And while I would have to say that she probably bears the greatest responsibility in needing to remember to bring the keys, the ultimate failure to bring them is on me.See, this isn’t as simple has me saying, “this is all my fault, no one else did anything wrong in the scenario.” Obviously other people did something wrong. But it’s a principle and setting an example of ownership.
I’ll explain what I mean. If I begin to blame my wife, now she knows I am upset. She feels bad, and our relationship gathers a bit of tension. Now what happens at the next event when one of us mess something up? Will either one of us want to own up to it? We’ve set a pattern for blame and for pushing each other away, instead of owning up to the problem, and working through it together. As the leader of my family, did I do a simple follow up to ensure my wife had the keys? When the ultimate outcome was failure (we couldn’t check on the camp properly), did I create a pattern of tension and blame? Or did I set a pattern of owning a problem for myself?
As the leader, whether it’s in a family, business, or even a book reading club, the followers look to the leader for the standard to set. Is the standard going to be, “Hey Team member! You messed up! This problem is all your fault because XYZ!” ? Then what happens when the Team member has an issue with another Team member? Another cycle of blame shifting.
The goal we are shooting for isn’t inflating ego. It’s bettering yourself. Success, whatever that is deemed to be, isn’t massaging pride. By saying, “This outcome happened because I didn’t follow up and make sure you had the keys,” I set a high standard. I earn respect. Do you think my wife will think lesser of me because I take ownership of a problem? Absolutely not. You’ve completely disarmed any tension that could arise out of the situation. And the people under you, when they run into an issue, they’ll rise to take ownership of where they failed to ultimately execute success. Each person can then work together to eliminate the problems, increase efficiency, and become better.
I can think back to other ways this plays out. I can recall a time when I asked one of my kids to wipe to table in the kitchen. They took the wettest, dripping cloth, smeared water all over the table, then left a nice drip line running all the way to the kitchen. It seemed like such a simple task, so I let my kid have an earful over it. But later I realized I had never shown my kid how to do such a simple task. I hadn’t provided clear instructions, and so I had gotten poor results. That was on me. Did I apologize to my kid, explaining I hadn’t given clear enough directions? My response likely was hurtful. But regretfully, no. I lost that opportunity. But I’ll press on, and seek other opportunities to show my kids proper ownership in the presence of failure. As I do, our family gains a posture of seeking how to resolve the problem. See how the story changes? We aren’t focused on the failure, we’re focused on owning the problem and solving it together.
So whatever sphere you in that has you placed as a leader, swallow your ego and take ownershipwhen an outcome failed. You’ll earn respect, and your overall team and tribe will follow suit, everyone gaining in the process. A higher tide raises all boats, right? Own your faults, and own the outcomes of scenarios that you oversee.
And that ruined Memorial Weekend? It turned out just fine. We grabbed some cleaning materials, came back the next morning, let it all air out for the day, and spent a nice weekend catching fish, riding dirt bikes, and cooking smores.
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by Jared Johnson June 02, 2019 10 min read