At times, I’ve taken on too many responsibilities, only to pay the price later with poor follow-through — which is ultimately more painful than saying “no” at the outset.
My poor follow-through is downstream of my ambition and my desire to people-please, both of which seem noble but can lead to consequences. When it comes to ambition, I’m like a starving guy at a buffet. Not only am I unable to eat everything on my plate, but I get sick from trying. My desire to people-please is why I say “yes” to opportunities as they arise, but I disappoint people later when I’m late on a project or have to cancel at the last minute.
To combat this, I’ve adopted a principle called “Own It Mentality.”
My goal is simple: Be a man of my word. Do what I say I’m going to do, when I say I’m going to do it. That means showing up on schedule, communicating clearly, and getting things done on time.
Being reliable is table stakes. My friend Chris, who used to run giant concerts, tells me that the most successful bands are also the most operationally buttoned-up. They run on schedule, communicate clearly, and pay invoices on time.
I want to do the same. Practically, the best change I’ve made to my own working habits is scheduling time to respond to messages every day (inbox zero, Slack zero, Twitter DM zero, text message zero).1 I used to wait a long time to respond to important messages because “it’s good to think about things,” only to never reply because so much time had passed that my message now had to begin with an apology, which made things even more ominous — until the whole situation turned into a monster that I was too terrified to confront. The solution is to respond fast because the faster you respond, the less energy it takes to do so.2
Scheduling time every day keeps me focused on my work when I need to because I know that I have response times built into my schedule.
Many Silicon Valley investors say that fast response times for important messages correlate highly with a founder’s long-term success.
Good executives are information-routers. Much of their job is making introductions, giving feedback, and setting the tempo for the organization — all of which demand fast response times. They need an Own It Mentality because they are ultimately responsible for following up and following through on the organization’s commitments.
Own It Mentality doesn’t just apply to executives. It’s important for all members of a team. David Ogilvy says, “In the best companies, promises are always kept, whatever it may cost in agony and overtime.”
One core difference between low- and high-performing companies is that one wishes while the other promises. At high-performing companies, diligent follow-through is the norm. People do what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it. Meanwhile, low-performing organizations are ruled by excuses. Tasks slip through the cracks. Timelines are outright ignored.
High-performing companies are the opposite. They do the simple things right. Commitments are kept, repeatedly. When deliverables are late, people communicate. When things go wrong, the blame is owned, not deflected.
Adopting an Own It Mentality
I expect an Own It Mentality from myself and from everyone I work with.
Own It Mentality means confronting conflict as soon as it arises. By not saying what needs to be said, you trade short-term comfort for long-term pain, and the longer you wait to deal with an issue, the worse it usually becomes. Avoiding conflict means borrowing time and energy from your future-self (and the interest rates are high).
For example, people avoid conflict by saying “yes” to everything and taking on too much work. Saying “yes” feels good in the moment because the expectation of achievement comes with an instant dopamine rush. All the pain of saying “no” is postponed.
One way I reduce conflict is by setting clear expectations and outlining a person’s scope of responsibilities before I start working with them. Such clarity is a way of immediately addressing conflict.
Everybody benefits from clear expectations and a high standard of excellence. Own It Mentality means that once somebody says they’re going to do something, I don’t have to worry about their ability to get it done. That, then, gives them freedom in their work. I give people lots of autonomy. I don’t micromanage. In return, I expect people to take initiative, be proactive, communicate well, and follow through on their commitments. So long as they have an Own It Mentality, I don’t care how much somebody works, when they work, or where they work from.
Expecting an Own It Mentality doesn’t mean that you expect perfection. Life gets in the way sometimes. People get sick. Accidents happen. Projects take longer than expected. That’s fine. But when things don’t go according to plan, you have to communicate — and if people are chasing you down for information, you’re probably not communicating enough. Own It Mentality also means that you own the fact that you aren’t able to “Own It” right now.
Do you follow through on your commitments? Is your word a wish or a promise?
Thanks to Brent Beshore, Jeremy Giffon, Will Mannon, and Chris Monk for conversations that led to this article. It was informed by Brent’s idea of “Extreme Reliability.”