The Done Right Podcast
Episode 13

Strategic Leadership Principle 2––Deliver Results with Strong Personal Ownership


Welcome to the Done Right podcast. I'm Jordan Staples and over the past decade and a half, I've been studying how people live successful and satisfying lives, both in and outside of work. And here's what I've learned. People in the workforce who are successful and satisfied are the ones that show up, pitch in, and make an impact in their companies. They are the ones who know how to get stuff done but do it right. So our mission for this podcast is to deliver insight and inspiration to fuel the way you show up at work today. 

[Jordan] We are here in Lehi, Utah at Workfront headquarters and we are back with Trish Gorman. Trish, so glad to have you. 

[Trish] Really glad to be here, Jordan. 

[Jordan] Let's dive into our series on strategic leadership. If you could give people just a quick background, I know we've done several of these episodes, but there might be someone that lands on this particular episode and doesn't know who you are. Give them an intro and then we'll segway right into strategic leadership and specifically about taking ownership of results. 

[Trish] Great. Well, I'm very happy to be here. I've spent a portion of my career in operations, which I think is going to come through today when we start talking about results. But I’ve spent more of my career as a consultant and as an academic studying strategy and economics and thinking about how some organizations and teams and firms outperform others. Why do some people succeed and others fail? Why do some teams succeed and others fail? I've searched in industry, I’ve searched as a consultant and searched as an academic, and I've landed here in Utah at the Eccles School of Business teaching strategy and innovation, and helping to lead up the Goff Center for Strategic Leadership, where we study this and we share what we've learned with the rest of the world. 

[Jordan] Very cool. So let's tell the audience who are just jumping into the strategic leadership series, what do we mean by a strategic leader? Is it different from a leader? And, you know, maybe how we describe it in other ways, like charismatic or I don't know, there are a million different ways to name a leader. But what do we mean by strategic leadership? 

[Trish] We take a slice out of the broad domain of leadership and we focus in on the kind of leaders who are looking into the future, who are making decisions that have a lasting impact and who are willing to take some risk in order to reap future rewards. So those are things that for our listeners who are familiar with strategy, that's at the essence of strategy, but as opposed to creating a strategy and then having it be executed by others, we actually believe that individuals need to stay in touch with both the strategy generation: what should we do? And the execution: how should we do it? Because in today's world, things are so dynamic and changing that we don't have the luxury of creating a strategy, throwing it over the wall and letting somebody else execute for three, four or five years before we make changes. So the idea of strategic leadership allows us to be agile and dynamic and to create value and to get results. 

What does it mean to take ownership of results?

[Jordan] So you've got six principles basically divided up into the core of what makes a strategic leader: role. How do they interact with those around them? And then the goal, some of the more forward-facing things or future-facing things that you were talking about. Today's episode is all about delivering results with strong personal ownership. So let's just jump right into that topic. What do you mean by really taking ownership of results? 

[Trish] Thanks for putting it in context. The core, which we're talking about today, who you are as a leader, is where this taking ownership belongs. And we sometimes call it driving results with strong personal ownership and we want to marry that piece of we're doing things for a reason; we're after some results, we have metrics and we have outcomes that we're seeking. But the emphasis we put on strong personal ownership is very intentional. It's saying that just putting the process in place is not enough. Hope is not a strategy. It's the follow-through and the investment and doing what it takes to actually achieve results. And some of that is analytics and hard skills, some of its soft skills and buy-in, alignment, and influence. But it's the idea that whether or not you get the results, you own them, meaning if there's a failure, you're the one who takes responsibility and helps learn from it. And if there's a success, you are attentive to making sure that everyone who participated gets a share in the credit for that. So it's a very low ego kind of leadership. It's not about me, and getting yourself out in front of the parade or getting yourself out, you know, upon the bandstand. Sometimes these leaders are not highly visible, but they're highly effective. 

[Jordan] So let's clarify what you mean by results. What kind of results are you talking about here? 

[Trish] Well, certainly there's financial results, and that often is the first place people go thinking about profits and revenues and everything that leads to that. So the antecedents to financial results are all kinds of things, a great user interface, that might be what your result is, an innovative product line or a new feature that you're introducing. It could be that the result you want is a change in culture, that you want to move more to a growth mindset in your organization. So results is defined quite broadly when we speak about it the way we are today, Jordan. But for you, listener, you need to know what your desired result is and how you're going to measure it. Is it enough to say we're going to convert, you know, 25 percent of our customers to our new offerings? Or is it 60 percent or is it 100 percent? And under what timeline? So it can be anything from you may be familiar with, you know, smart goals that are specific and measurable, and so on, all the way to something that's much more amorphous that you want to change people's bias for action. Which is not as easy to measure. 

Engaging your team in taking responsibility:

[Jordan] No, I don't imagine it would be. Ok, let me go back to something you were saying. It sounds to me like certainly, you need to define what those results are. But you talked about, just a moment ago, the strategy generation and then execution should not be a let's throw it over the wall kind of thing. When we're talking about taking ownership like deep personal ownership of these results, obviously as a leader of a team, you want to foster that in your team members. So my question is, is this strategy generation, defining the results and all of that, how do you foster that kind of ownership? Is it including your team and helping to define the strategy? You know, does that get messy, though? They help us to define metrics. So there's that ownership or kind of what is the process for really engaging your team to take that kind of responsibility? 

[Trish] Well, it sounds like you've lived this, and you know how messy it can be or how challenging it can be. But certainly taking strong personal ownership for results can backfire, it can be taken too literally and too far. So if I say, you know, my team needs to get this project done, and that means I'm going to assign out the four key tasks to four people then micromanage them until they hit those deadlines and get those things done so that I can compile them and finish my report on time or complete my tasks. That is one way to drive results, and certainly, there's some ownership there. But implied here is more of a collaborative feel, and especially here, we're talking about who you are as a leader. 

So it's deciding, are you that type of leader who's going to be holding other people on task? Or, are you going to be the kind of leader who creates excitement around the outcome so that other people are drawn to you and they want to participate with you and they can see where you're headed and how important what you're doing could be for the organization? Are you the type of person who's going to micromanage or are you happy to share the overview and to get everyone aligned on what it is you're trying to do, and let people with subject matter expertise and technical expertise and other complementary skills to yours find their own path to value? So pieces of this have a lot to do with... and again, we're not saying we're creating an all-new field here. People know how to lead change, they know how to lead people, they know how to lead themselves. We're taking a piece of this and just trying to reinforce how important it is that as you're doing this, you do take that ownership, you're willing to help other people to take important risk by providing support and perhaps helping them learn from things that aren't going well, making mid-course corrections, for example. But yeah, it's a messy process in most cases if we're honest about it. 

[Jordan] Yeah. Because, you know, kind of a followup question there is, you know, there's the formal role of a strategic leader and then there's the informal role of that responsibility of taking ownership. For people who are not necessarily in like... Well, I've been part of a lot of leadership trainings, and I've sat in there, and basically, I've been taught that I'm paid to get results. My team's the one that actually gets those results. Right. And so it's my job as a leader to really inspire that team and to rally them and to leverage their skill sets and expertise to get to those results. But the question is, how can I empower team members to have that same level of accountability and ownership? 

[Trish] Well, you might not want to hear this part, but I would say there's only so much you can do, and a lot of it has to come from them. And that's a lot of our emphasis on the core. Let's just pretend I'm that person on your team and you want to empower me. I've got to take that onto myself and decide that I want to make that commitment, maybe it's perceived by me as a big risk to try harder or to go in a new direction or try out a new skill. You can enable and support me, but at some point, I need to do it myself. And that's actually one of the most important things for you to know as a leader. You're working on yourself, other people are working on themselves. That's when we see amazing things happen. If you try to work on somebody else, for one thing, you're probably not doing the work you need to on your own situation. And we've just found that you can support, there are all kinds of, you know, air cover and political help and skill-building and resources that you can provide, but that really essential component needs to come from the individual. And maybe we'll do another segment on sort of how you can select for this or how you can help to find the people who have that spark and help fan it because you definitely can; you can encourage this kind of behavior and reward it and celebrate it. 

[Jordan] But there is an intrinsic, there's the individual accountability there, which I think is a great lesson where you can't force it. I mean, you can champion that we're a results-oriented team and you can lead by example and reward people and mentor people. But at the same time, like you’ve got to give that space is what I'm hearing. 

[Trish] You really do. And provide opportunities for people to be accountable for their own progress. And some people will be able to progress faster or differently than others. But as long as they're really focused on that pursuit of excellence and personal and professional growth, then you've got all the elements in place for a really productive team going forward. 

[Jordan] Yeah. And it's––I guess this is maybe not the greatest analogy––but it really is like parenting, like your kid has to experience the consequence of not getting the result or you know, you have to allow stuff to happen. 

[Trish] You have to allow others to fail. And if you're in a culture where failure is taboo and you can’t even say the “F” word and people only tell stories about times when they've succeeded and they've said, “well the customer saved the company,” or whatever, then you're not really helping to develop this kind of muscle, which is the resilience muscle. The “oh, gee, I skipped that step and it came back to bite me” muscle. I realized that actions have consequences. And yes, it might be like parenting. A lot of times I use sports analogies and you don't do the training, you're not going to perform. Sometimes you get lucky, your competition shows up, and they're not as prepared. But having that real accountability and having the conversations about what happened, why did it happen? I mean, often it's not that somebody nefariously tried to avoid doing the right thing. There's a lot of other factors. 

[Jordan] So I’ve actually been doing a lot of research on how the military operates. And we've got this concept from the military that we use here at Workfront, called commander’s intent. And what's interesting is, as I've dug into this principle and just learning how the military operates, I learned that they are trying to move from a command and control paradigm to what they call mission command. And it essentially is this where it's like they're trying to get out of the way of their soldiers and, you know, really down the ranks, get out of their way and let them exercise disciplined initiative, which kind of sets up for this agility thing. And I know we're going to get into that topic a little bit. But what's interesting is that I think maybe one of the most popular these days, Navy SEALs or former Navy SEALs, is Jocko Willink. He's got his own podcast and he's got this book out called Extreme Ownership. Right. So when we think about the military and that very hierarchical sort of paradigm in this command control kind of extreme ownership thing, is that what we're talking about? I mean, is it similar there, or what are your thoughts on that military burden? 

[Trish] Well, certainly there are aspects of it that we really admire and an awful lot of people who embrace leadership also embrace extreme ownership. But the interesting thing, and I like that you bring the aspiration of tomorrow's army into it. Because ownership can work really, really well when there's very clear lines of command, very clear hierarchy, and it's very clear the buck stops with the sergeant or the general or whoever it is in the line of command. When you get into non-hierarchical situations and distributed teams and situational leadership or one day I'm your boss and the next day you're my boss, because we're working on multiple projects or multiple outcomes or we're working with different clients, then you might think that the militaristic ideas fall apart. But actually what doesn't fall apart is this concept of ownership. It works in hierarchies. It works in egalitarian and more flat, not nonhierarchical situations. And it works at the individual and the team level. So we would answer you with, you know, an “and both”. 

There's you know, if you really dig in, there are some differences. But the essence of saying that everyone's going after results and looking for the outcomes, but there's nowhere to hide. And that's shouldn't be seen as something that's terrifying; it should be seen as it's liberating. That transparency allows you to share, to help others to take different kinds of risks and to learn faster. It is a hard transfer to make, but it's worth it. 

[Jordan] Sure. So can you give me some examples then, of how leaders do or don't take ownership of the results and certainly like when the results are positive versus negative, but yeah… kind of some examples of when that happens? 

[Trish] Well, I think we've all seen situations where a very lean team is working incredibly hard, pulling all-nighters and trying really hard to get to a deadline and, you know, scraping by with almost no resources. And then they have a huge victory. And suddenly, there's a lot of people on this team, a lot of people contributed and a lot of people open their wallets then, you know, retroactively. And I remember I had the privilege to work with Jack Welch for a while. And it doesn't really matter what the decision was. There was a big decision that was made and the story was always told that the decision was made in a helicopter where Jack was going from, Crotonville back to Fairfield County. So it's a helicopter ride in Connecticut. And as this decision became more and more mythically amazing, and industry-changing, more and more people claim to have been in that helicopter. And the joke was there was no way all these people could fit in the helicopter. So when things go well, everybody wants a piece of it. Everyone wants to be on a winning team. Everybody wants to say that they were part of the conversation or part of the process. And I think we've all seen on the other side that when things go upside down, that often, you know, it's kind of like “I was never involved,” and “I didn't say that, I didn't do that.”

So there's a huge amount of integrity and honesty that needs to come about so that you can preserve the kinds of behaviors you want to see, regardless of whether the immediate result is positive or negative. The interesting thing with strategic leadership is sometimes you go through so many iterations that you may fail two or three times on your way to success. And if everyone abandons you during those failures, and even if you have a crisis of confidence in yourself, you won't persevere to the success. So this could be innovating and you do a product launch. Your soft launch goes poorly and you have to pivot to make changes. It could be you're pursuing clients and they say, no, no, no. And you finally get the pricing and the offering right, and they say yes, and then, you know, that ends up becoming a great line of business. So one way to think about taking ownership is you're taking ownership, and your intention is to persevere past today's value to tomorrow's success, and past today's success to tomorrow's failure. Because hubris and thinking that you've got it made and you've got the answer is another place where we see a lot of people, you know, setting themselves up for disappointment. 

Can ownership be career limiting?

[Jordan] Well, and as you're saying that I wonder if kind of the natural reaction is that everybody wants to be part of a winning team when we're winning and everyone runs away essentially when we're not, is it seems to me the reason why folks do that is because if they don't, they feel like it's gonna limit their career. Meaning like, if I am on a project and I had a really significant contribution to that project and certainly a lot of other people were involved, but maybe in all reality, like I really was the reason why it was successful. I mean, just to use that as an example. If as we're celebrating that success, I'm sure there’s a lot of people that want to make sure they get credit, you know, because they don't want to have that be a missed opportunity in terms of their career. And vise versa, it's like when everyone's jumping off the boat when it's, you know, going down, people certainly don't like to have ownership. You know, when that boat's going down, especially if they were a key contributor to the decisions that were made and the reasons for it going down. So is this at all, I should say, is ownership in any way at all career limiting?

[Trish] It can be. I mean, the really, really honest answer is that if you bring this strategic leadership mindset in some cultures, in some organizations, you may be putting your career at risk. You may not survive if you have a huge failure. You mean not get the credit you deserve when you have a success. Part of that is trying to seek out like-minded people and organizations with the culture that is one that you know…

[Jordan] Just be in an organization where that's not going to happen?

[Trish] Yeah, a failure tolerant organization that's truly innovative, that allows, you know, both personal and professional risk-taking. But to be honest, most of us don't have those choices depending on where you live, what your skillset is, what your family situation is, you may work where you work and you don't get to change the culture. So then I'd say interpret everything we're saying through that lens. And certainly, we're not saying take a crazy risk in your own environment that you know is gonna get you fired. But again, as a strategic leader, step back and say, ok, what results could I pursue? How much will my situation right now tolerate failure, or what kind of experiment can I run? What problem could I start to solve? And then maybe don't do the one that's a big save the company or sink the company kind of choice. So that's very prudent. Where there is no glory in, you know, telling the story at the bar about if only your company would have understood you better, you'd still be there, you know, selling great products and changing the world. You want to live to fight another day to be realistic. 

Trust and integrity in taking ownership:

[Jordan] No, a hundred percent. And so we've talked in previous conversations about these principles of trust and integrity. So let's kind keep taking this a step further. How are those principles really connected to taking ownership? 

[Trish] Well, certainly trust is important because when we say driving results with strong personal ownership, the driving results piece usually has some time element, and you need to be able to move quickly. Oftentimes, if you don't have trust and you have to really negotiate and contract and nail everything down, the window of opportunity may be closing too quickly for you to be able to do that. And integrity is closely related to that, in a sense that if people know that they can trust you, that you are transparent, that you follow up on your promises, that you do as you say you will, that you are not just going to observe the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law is really what you're after. Then you will be able to pursue collaborating with better people. If it's a war for talent, you may have an edge there because people will find it more kind of safer and more gratifying and more preferred to work with you. 

So there are some very economic, or I could say sort of specifiable reasons why trust saves time and integrity and increases your team quality. But there's more than that. Trust and integrity shouldn't just be operationalized and converted to economic metrics. It's the idea that there's a human element to risk-taking and creating value, and kind of reaching further tomorrow than we are today. And that idea of driving results, it's not just driving the results of the task you were given two months ago and you need to complete by the end of the quarter, it's driving results. The big results, the things that help you to move your whole position or to maybe create new jobs for a lot of people or to bring a new product to the market that saves lives or changes productivity. So it's kind of, you know, results. It should be in a different color, in italics, you know, not just, you know, I got through Friday without getting fired. And that's a good enough result for me. 

Common mistakes in taking ownership:

[Jordan] I know for sure. So as we wrap the episode up, I'm curious. I know we kind of hit on this a little bit earlier, but what haven't we talked about in terms of the most common mistakes or oversights in this area? Is there anything else you'd add to that? 

[Trish] The most common mistake I see is people who really focus more on the results and they start to edge into this, “the end justifies the means”. We're seeing a lot right now of companies that are delivering great customer experiences, but maybe their employees, and I'm thinking of Uber and Lyft drivers and door dash delivery people here, they're slighting their employees perhaps, and not really thinking about the long term employee model. 

So if the end justifies the means, then maybe you're focusing too much on the results piece here. And that's a common mistake because you know where we are, you know, once we decide to focus, we can over focus. And that's closely related to another problem we see, which is people who are focusing on how they get the results and forgetting about the why. So that's why I say, you know, the results, it's not just tactical here, we're really trying to think about things that are preparing you better for the future. And so the why we're doing it, why are we bothering? Is this gonna be relevant tomorrow, is another big place where it would help if people spend a little more time thinking.

Today’s best next action:

[Jordan] No, that's great. All right. So as we're wrapping up here, what is the one thing you'd recommend to listeners to improve their core ability to really take ownership of results? 

[Trish] I'd say do this little exercise that we do a lot and it's very, very easy, but you might not like the outcome. I do it myself every once in a while, and there's always room for improvement. And this is going through your past week or a couple of weeks of your meetings and your work and everything you've done related to what you think of as getting results and then categorizing it in two ways, which were activities and which could you actually call progress? So where were you just either, you know, making lateral passes or dribbling the ball, and where were you actually driving towards taking a shot? Where were you making progress towards? Whether you want to use a sports metaphor, a family metaphor, or you just want to really think about your work. 

And I'll use a little bit of a sports metaphor, because if I was going to run a race, I might break down, you know, how I spent the morning, you know, got up and hydrated and stretched out a little, went to the race venue, jogged around a bit, stretched out some more, ate a banana, and then ran my race. Were all those things up to running the race just activities, or were they progress? And it depends. If I think that hydration and nutrition and stretching are all part of my result, which is I want to run a great race, then they count as progress. If instead I say forget all that stuff, it's you know, it starts at the starting line and when the gun goes off, boom, that's all and counting as progress. And that's up to you. 

So if I'm trying to launch a new course and I go to a conference that might help me meet some other people, who might tell me something that might help me in some way, do I call that progress? I got to be honest with myself, is it really contributing to results? And can I take ownership and say I use that time in a productive way towards advancing the overall position of my team or my company? Or was it just fun for me, or was it killing time, or was it a socially acceptable “work activity”? So that's the challenge I give you, is just up the percentage of time you're working on things that actually progress you towards your goals and get rid of a few of the things that are more kind of just activities. 

[Jordan] I've got some work to do. I need to go and evaluate my time. So that's great. I love that. Thank you so much, Trish. This has been awesome to talk about taking ownership of results with you. Thanks for being here. 

[Trish] My pleasure. 

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about the topic and continue the conversation at The Done Right podcast is hosted by me, Jordan Staples, the show is produced by Workfront. Our team includes Jeremy Tippetts and Marc Hansen. 

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