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How To Increase Employee Responsibility — Regardless of Where You're Working

Extreme ownership and active listening are two of the most valuable skills you can teach, for both the workplace and beyond.

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All great companies have leaders who practice extreme ownership. This means that they demonstrate excellent self-accountability and take responsibility for the behavior, success, or failures of others around them. They see how everything and everyone interconnects and accept that what they do will influence the entire team. The best of the best, however, have created cultures that encourage extreme ownership in everyone. As remote work becomes more and more accepted, this mindset will be essential. You will no longer be able to interact and keep tabs on everyone in traditional ways. If you’re worried about your team’s capacity for more responsibility, be proactive and help them improve. 

Related: How To Keep Your Employees Engaged and Secure When They're Working From Home

Extending your reach

Employees who are struggling with responsibility aren’t necessarily incapable of holding themselves and others accountable. They might genuinely care about the organization and just be unsure how to turn that concept into an actionable practice. What’s missing is a go-to behavior that will demonstrate their willingness to fix problems and get the ball rolling.

The simple solution here is to self-examine and ask questions like:

  • “What did I do wrong?” 

  • “How can I improve?” 

  • “Did I do something to upset you?” 

  • “What can I do to fix this?” 

  • “How could I have done more or better?” 

However it’s phrased, this act of reflection leads to better communication and accountability. If you integrate it into your leadership, team members will look to you and learn. Besides this benefit, you should notice individual advantages, too. If you take time to assess your weakest areas, slip-ups, and relationships with others, those faulty spots get stronger. 

Related: How Reflection Sets You Up for Success

For example, if you’ve noticed that a direct report has stopped responding, address that awkwardness head-on and investigate the issue. Never leave this type of gap unchecked, because obviously something is wrong. Your direct reports should see that you seek their feedback and understand the importance of acting on feedback.

When you make this a routine, people on your team see that it’s OK to reach out in search of a solution. They learn that they’re in a transparent environment where it’s OK to be wrong sometimes and that it’s more important to learn from that mistake. As I said earlier, make this a routine in your one-on-one meetings and your direct reports start trusting you and that process. Usually, they start to engage with co-workers with the same positive behavior you demonstrated. They may even start using the approach with your customers, which is fantastic for boosting your satisfaction ratings, loyalty, and brand reputation.

No ego, just lots of active listening

This strategy requires you and your direct reports to check your egos at the door. This may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar to some people, especially those who feel “being wrong” will hurt them somehow. Allowing yourself to be open for feedback is not an easy thing. 

So, don’t be surprised if people on your team need more time to get used to extreme ownership. If you are persistent and celebrate the positive results of those interactions, employees will eventually understand the power of admitting an error.

Once people are willing to ask what they did wrong, the next step is practicing active listening. It’s another difficulty to tackle, as often the first instinct is to get defensive or try to justify every action. If you see this happening, step in and offer some formal training on active listening. Offer some strategies and guardrails for staying focused and empathetic during conversations. 

Related: How To Successfully Develop Your Company's Core Values – And Ensure They're Practiced

The bottom line

Extreme ownership will only get more important as people have more options for how, when, and where to work. Reaching out with thoughtful questions provides an actionable olive branch, so you can resolve conflicts and find real solutions to what went wrong. The more you do this, the more your team will see it’s OK to seek feedback and be open to coaching. 

Stu Sjouwerman

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Stu Sjouwerman (pronounced “shower-man”) is the founder and CEO of KnowBe4, Inc., which offers a platform for security awareness training and simulated phishing.