A Simple Lesson on Leadership: Share Success - Own Failure

We have all been exposed to those who grab for attention and hide from responsibility. Whether they are our leaders, teammates, family members, or even ourselves, this behavior can erode trust and cause resentment. The good news is, there is a simple way to avoid this trap and develop a level of self-awareness that handles success and failure in a way that builds stronger leaders, teams, and relationships.

Much of how we communicate our relationship with success and failure depends on the precise words we use. Shifting blame by using “you” or “they” statements tends invoke defensiveness, while taking all the credit for success using “I” statements leads to resentment. Similarly, when success is shared and attributed to others first, trust and camaraderie are likely to follow. Using the following simple rule will help navigate this tricky terrain:

Share Success - Own Failure


Shift the focus onto others (using YOU and WE) to share success

Start with others when sharing a collective success. Share what went well with individuals directly (“your report was very well articulated”). Then acknowledge everyone for their efforts using “we” (“we accomplished our goal”). Share the success without shifting the focus onto what you did well (even if you did a lot). If you receive a compliment from your team, don’t embellish or downplay the complement, simply thank them. Even when your team is not present, avoid the urge to shower yourself with praise. Instead, state how proud you are of leading a winning team.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
— Lao Tzu

Shift the focus onto yourself first (using I and ME) when challenges arise

While no one likes to be wrong, the most trusted leaders have no problem admitting mistakes and taking responsibility. When problems or challenges arise, start by asking yourself “what is/was my role in this? What could I have done differently?”. Only after you have honestly explored the “I” focused questions should you shift to “we” focused questions. “What could we have done differently? How did we as a team contribute to this challenge?”. Lastly, if the causes of the issue are not flushed out after “we” based conversation you might venture into “you” based questions. Importantly, these are not “you” based statements (“you messed up”) but questions (“what might you have done differently that would have helped minimize the problem?”).

While this may seem counter-intuitive, attributing success to others and accepting responsibility for problems will help create a trusting environment. Ultimately allowing the collective effort to accomplish far more than if it were to rest solely on the laurels of its leader.