How to Own Every Situation as a Leader

As much as we like to think we have a solid handle on our teams and organizations, sometimes surprises come our way. Employees may make bad decisions, contractual obligations are at times overlooked, and our people don’t always follow through on commitments. These incidents can arise without warning and throw a curveball in our current plans. 

There are many things that occur that we can’t always predict or prepare for. As a leader, what you do next is important. Do you point the finger and blame others? Do you make excuses to cover your lack of communication and delegation? Or do you choose to own the situation by making an action plan to move forward?

Over the years, I’ve seen far too many leaders overwhelmed by fear and confusion when they fail to own a situation. Some things simply don’t always go as planned. This is to be expected even with the best put together plans. When our systems are interrupted, our survival instincts often kick in, and everyone feels the need to defend their position. These tend to be the moments when hostility and difficulties arise in the workplace. When you stop trying to cover yourself by making excuses, you can truly start to lead the situation. 

Ownership means taking the responsibility of determining what to do next and committing to seeing it through. If you want to be ready for the surprises that may come your way, here are five ways to help you own the situation as a leader: 

  1. Own the outcome, whether or not you directly participated in the issue. Discovering how to handle unexpected situations that arise is a learning process for any team. No one ever wants to be blamed for negative results. Negative or positive, the outcome is often a reflection of your leadership. Learn to own it from the start.
  2. Turn difficult circumstances around, and make them learning opportunities. Most situations in life are what we choose to make of them. If there is a project that fell through, learn how to adjust future projects. Take challenging circumstances and turn them into an opportunity for growth, learning, and success.
  3. Accept that failure is part of the job. The natural tendency with failure is to jump onto the next thing without allowing yourself to learn. A true leader learns to accept failure and be shaped by it, rather than trying to brush it under the rug.
  4. Be ready for surprises. Leadership is bound to take you somewhere you’ve never been before. Be prepared for the detours that may come your way. Allow them to shape you as a leader and your overall vision.
  5. Lean into conflict. Rather than trying to push away from oppositions that arise, look at the root and discover why they exist. Conflicts don’t always occur just because of drama or personality discord. Often, they are a sign that something else is wrong. 


There are many things I can overlook from new and seasoned leaders, but when it comes to ownership there is very little wiggle room in my book. Either you own it, or someone else will. Just because it isn’t your fault doesn’t mean it isn’t your responsibility. That’s what ownership is all about. As the leader, you are there to own the situation.

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