Taking Responsibility

During my senior year of high school, my basketball team lost two consecutive games in the final seconds.

The worst part?

When we reviewed the film, it was obvious that in both games I had missed an opportunity to make a defensive play that could have sealed the victory. I felt like I alone had cost my team the game. It was heartbreaking.

Fast forward a few years, and I experienced something similar.

While I was working at Boeing, I was tasked with implementing a solution for a very specific problem that we were having with a customer. It was a huge project. We were expecting to lose millions if it didn’t go right.

And for the first few months, it was great. Everything went smoothly.

Until it came time to build the plane.

When the parts came in to start assembling one of the key structures, we noticed that one of the parts was wrong. Rather than the new and improved part that was supposed to fix the problem, we had the old, flawed part.

We came together as a team and come up with a recovery plan, but the damage had already been done. The delivery date was missed, we had to rush a shipment for the correct part, and my coworkers and I had to work long days to make up for the mistake.

I felt awful. And once again, I felt solely responsible.


I didn’t really think much about these situations until recently. But when I finally started to reflect, I noticed something interesting.

For the basketball games, I felt like I blew it. I thought it was completely my fault that we lost.

But really, there were plenty of reasons that we lost. In one of the games, we missed a potentially game-winning shot right after my mistake. We turned the ball over a dozen times. We missed lay-ups. And we had blown coverages throughout the game.

So there was no reason that I should have thought that the loss was solely my fault. There were plenty of opportunities to spread the blame.

Same thing at work.

Sure, I was in charge of coming up with a technical solution for the problem at hand. But it wasn’t my job to schedule the right shipment. It wasn’t my job to inspect the part when it came in to make sure it was what we needed. It wasn’t even my job to manage the program,

Yet I was willing to accept responsibility in both situations.

Overall, when something important goes wrong that I could have reasonably prevented, I personally feel responsible. And I like it that way.

When I start making excuses, or looking for other people to blame, I sacrifice my ability to take control of my life.

Sure, I realize that there’s plenty that happens in my life that is outside of my control. Sometimes I have to rely on others to get things done. And I realize that luck sometimes plays a role.

But that’s not what I focus on.

I choose to focus on the things that I do control. I think about the effort that I put in, and my ability to do what I’m supposed to do and live up to my word.

Because I firmly believe that there’s no value in focusing on things that are outside of my control.

But it doesn’t just stop there.

Even when there are events in my life that are seemingly outside of my control, I still often look for ways to make a difference.

When I’m reliant on someone else to get something done for me at work, I look for anything I can do to increase the chance that they’ll come through. I do more than my share to make their task as straightforward as possible. I try to anticipate any roadblocks that might come up, and address them before they cause an issue.

In the end, I’m still at the mercy of the person I’m working with. But when I put the effort in, it significantly increases the odds that they’ll do what they need to do.

It’s the same on the sports field.

One single person rarely decides a game. You’re dependent on every other player on the field to do their job.

But that doesn’t minimize the impact that you can have.

I know when I’m on the basketball court that my team has a great chance of winning if I play hard and execute. When I’m at my best, I make it easier for everyone else to do their jobs.

It’s not about trying to do too much, or telling my team to get out of the way so I can be the hero. It’s about doing my role to the absolute best of my ability to help my team win. If I do that and we still lose, I can’t be upset. All I can do is find ways to be better next time to give my team an even better chance to win.

But when I don’t live up to my expectations, it’s a different story. I want to be blamed for the failure. I crave the criticism.


For one, this type of thinking pushes me to be better. I’m always looking for ways to do more and more to help my team win so that we can share the glory rather than the blame.

And at the same time, there’s a crazy phenomenon that takes place.

When you openly accept blame for something that you did wrong, people notice. And they respect you for it.

I saw it in my days playing sports, and I see it everywhere now.

The best leaders take more than their fair share of blame when they lose, and less than their share of credit when they win.

Plain and simple.

So next time things go poorly, don’t start making excuses or looking for someone else to blame. Raise your hand, take the blame, and fix it. Own up to the mistake, even if it wasn’t entirely your fault.

And pay attention to how this approach changes you. Notice how people start to respect you more. And possibly even more importantly, pay attention to how you start to think.

As you take more and more responsibility for the way things go, you’ll start to do more and more to make sure they go well. And pretty soon, you’ll all but be in control of your own destiny.