So, when faced with an criticism of your school, a programme or teacher, or one of your own decisions, what should you do? Here are five reasons why, when things go wrong, you should own it:
1. Ownership gives you control: Now let's be clear, in most cases you are not actually at fault. People understand that you might have inherited systemic issues or questionable practices. Often, until they blow up in your face, you might not have been aware that they existed. But, that is not a time for finger pointing, in fact, it's just the opposite. The first step to solving a problem is let people (students, staff, parents) know that you are future focused and are committed to making things work, rather than assigning blame. A school leader who is seen as being invested in taking constructive action will find that even the most vocal critics are keen to pitch in. People want to be part of the solution, not the problem.
2. Ownership builds a collaborative culture: There is nothing more discouraging for a faculty or leadership team than watching a leader off-load a problem to someone else and demand a quick solution. Accountability is a shared responsibility. Unless you want to be known as someone who throws her or his colleagues under the bus whenever something goes wrong, then your best path forward is to roll up your sleeves and be part of a group effort to make things right. That doesn't mean that you have to take charge, or do it alone, but you have to be a supportive member of the team and let your colleagues know that you have their backs as they work to find a solution.
3. Ownership buys you credit and credibility: This might sound a bit crass, but there is nothing wrong in being seen as a person who gets things done, a fixer. Once people see you as a leader who takes action when a problem is identified, they are much more likely to get behind you when the next issue arises. Most school leaders are not brought down by a major crisis, but are more likely to be brought to their knees by a thousand tiny cuts. If you get a reputation as a deflector/distractor/attacker you make yourself irrelevant and expendable. Parents, faculty and students want someone who takes their concerns seriously and who takes deliberate action to address them.
4. Ownership gives you the strength withstand attacks: This is a corollary of the previous point but is worthy of its own mention. Not every criticism or complaint is justified. Sometimes there are philosophical disagreements (about homework, discipline, standards, etc.), sometimes people are misinformed, or sometimes they just have a personal grudge. If you are seen as someone who quickly addresses serious problems, then if you refuse to act on a particular issue, people will usually assume that it was "fake news". The fact that you didn't take action says more about the issue than it does about you.
5. Ownership strengthens the "brand" of the school and your leadership team: Most schools rise or fall on the word of mouth reputation that they have in the community. Taking ownership of issues as they arise, communicating honestly and openly with your stakeholders, and admitting to shortcomings instead of just over-hyping your successes will build trust and respect. You can learn one thing from Donald Trump, if all you ever say is how "great", "fantastic", "best ever" you are, sooner or later people will tune you out and when something really great happens you will have debased the currency of your credibility to the point where no-one will listen.
If you want to avoid the "Trump Trap" in issue management - own it! It pays great dividends and it makes you a better leader.