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Proud Winner, Accountable Loser

Patrick Nelson, May 6, 2019

Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement.
One fails forward toward success.
– C.S. Lewis

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be accountable to success but how difficult it can be to be accountable to failure? When success happens, it’s rewarding – if not exciting – to see how we contributed to the result! When failure happens, it can be embarrassing to consider our role in it. This is why many are quick to place blame, or deny their role, when mistakes get made. We want to protect ourselves – and our ego – from less than best results.

I had the honor to work with a National Football League team fresh out of grad school. I was in an entry-level role in football operations, which meant that I helped take care of the players and coaches off-field needs so they could concentrate on the on-field stuff. Trust me, being a part of the NFL was a dream come true, but it was not as glamorous as it might sound. I passed out checks, booked flights, gave rides to medical appointments, ordered catered meals, etc. But I loved doing it because I loved the team.

Our team had a pretty good season. So good that we made the playoffs. And boy, was I proud of how I contributed to the team’s success! So was everyone else. From the bus drivers, to our team photographer, to guys in the operations department. During playoff season, we were all raising our hands to say that we had something to do with our team making it this far. We were being accountable to our success.

Well, the first round of the playoffs came and we get our butts kicked. It was ugly. When it happened you certainly did not see me raising my hand trying to take accountability for my role in the loss. Along with other team members, I was thinking “you guys stink’” and “thank goodness I had nothing to do with this.” I believed I had nothing to do with the loss even though I had been quick to claim a piece of the earlier success.

Through time, I’ve learned that when facing defeat or failure, an effective leader must first seek ownership. I may not have been on-field while the team played, but I know there were things off-field that I could have been doing better. If I can be a proud winner, I should also learn to be an accountable loser.

Effective leaders:
Look to themselves first before pointing the finger at someone else when things go wrong.
Look at failure as a learning opportunity.
Don’t focus on blaming others for shortcomings. Effective leaders provide feedback, only after they have examined their role in the challenge.
Have a bias towards action when there is a problem. Only action – demonstrated in the spirit of accountability – solves problems.

Take ownership and start being part of the solution today!

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