It’s easy to think that your ability to lead others is proportionate to your time in a company. We tend to think that it’s the senior team members who are the “real” leaders. But the principles of Extreme Ownership apply at every level.

During a recent meeting, a senior coworker lost his temper and called me out in front of several other teams for a task that he felt was taking too long. The looks from the other teams in the meeting told me that they didn’t agree with his emotional outburst. My pride was hurt after the meeting, but I decided to let it go in the hope that either he would step up to talk with me about it or that the tension would recede on its own.

However, more than a week went by and things grew even more tense between us. I realized that even though I was the junior team member, I needed to take the lead and initiate action to resolve the issue. I found a time when my coworker’s mood seemed better and asked if we could step into a conference room to talk. I closed the sliding door behind me and apologized for what I believed to be the reason he was upset during the meeting. The result of this tactic was not what I expected. Without me even bringing up his outburst, HE said that he had handled the situation wrong. He then continued by saying that he had a bad morning and didn’t mean to blow up on me, especially in front of the group. I was amazed at how easy it was to calm what I thought would be a very intense talk. We proceeded to have a productive meeting and aligned on some new ways of working that would help the whole team. Before leaving the room, he turned back to me and said “I respect that you took the initiative to start this conversation. I should have been the one to do it.” I left that room feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I learned three things from this situation. First, being Default: Aggressive is key to solving problems. As Jocko and Leif often say, “problems don’t go away when you ignore them… they get worse.” Had I engaged even earlier on this issue, it would have helped to prevent further escalation and solved the problem sooner. Second, by taking ownership of the problem, I was able to disarm my co-worker’s ego which allowed us to have a productive conversation. Rather than increasing tension, it de-escalated the situation. It’s something I’ve heard the Echelon Front Team speak about often: “How do you get others to take ownership? YOU TAKE OWNERSHIP.” For my co-worker to take ownership of his inappropriate emotional outburst, I had to take ownership first. Third, it demonstrated to me that these principles work whether you’re a senior executive or a junior member of the team. Taking ownership and initiating action to solve problems works at every level.

Author: John Michael Domingo, EF Operations Support

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