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Passing Bucks (#395)
We need to be more willing to take ownership of the problems we encounter
Last week I read a striking story about a woman named Sandra Shuster and her daughter, Ruby.
Sandra and Ruby were returning home to Denver after attending a lacrosse competition in Baltimore. While the two took carry-ons for their clothes and personal belongings, they checked a bag with Ruby's lacrosse equipment, which was too bulky to carry on. After a connecting flight through Chicago, the pair arrived in Denver after midnight, only to discover Ruby’s checked gear was nowhere to be found.
The United crew in Denver assured the Shusters that their luggage would be on the 8:30am flight from Chicago the next morning and offered a reference number. However, while the flight arrived on time, the bag was not on it.
From there, the plot thickened when United informed the Shusters that they’d discovered Ruby’s bag hadn’t made it to Chicago at all—it was still stuck in Baltimore. However, the Shusters had put an Airtag in the bag; Sandra could see, through very precise location tracking, that Ruby’s bag was in Chicago.
Sandra called United’s reps and asked them to check for the bag at the location shown on the Airtag. Unfortunately, she was bounced from one person to another, each of whom insisted that the bag was not in Chicago.
At that point, Sandra decided to take matters into her own hands. She purchased a ticket to Chicago, skipped a day of work and found Ruby’s bag at the Chicago airport. It was right where the Airtag said it was, and where she’d asked multiple United employees to look for it. Apparently, the bag had been tagged incorrectly at check-in with another customer’s information.
This story exemplifies a phenomenon that is becoming all too prevalent today: we too often neglect to take ownership of solving problems, even though we have more tools at our disposal than ever before.
We can’t know for sure why United’s crew neglected to search more intently for Ruby’s bag. They may not have been empowered to go outside their luggage tracking protocols, or they may not have seen the point in putting in the leg work. However, if anyone had stepped up to take personal ownership of finding the bag, they probably could have solved the mystery in a few minutes with a text message and a phone camera. Not only would this have saved the Shusters time, money and aggravation, but it also would have saved the multiple United employees who handled Sandra’s calls time as well.
Whenever we ignore the opportunity to be part of the solution, we often just become part of the problem—for customers and colleagues.
This reluctance to take accountability or ownership is not exclusive to large corporations. It's part of a larger cultural shift, where the immediate instinct is often to deflect, delegate, or deny instead of diving into a problem head-on. Many of us are great at identifying problems, but we rarely see them as our problems to solve.
This detachment from individual accountability results in a massive drain on our collective time, resources, and trust. When the onus to act is continually pushed to the next person, problems fester and grow more complex. The end result is often the same: customers feel unheard and unappreciated, and organizations look incompetent.
Leaders should foster a culture where people are rewarded for getting the right outcome (finding the bag), rather than just following established processes. Taking ownership isn't about accepting blame; it’s about giving the other person the confidence that someone cares about their problem and will work on their behalf. Showing responsibility for problem solving is almost always a virtue.
Similarly, as individuals, we must prioritize empathy, understanding that the person on the other end of our complaint or concern has feelings, fears, and their own set of challenges.
The Shusters’ story, while disheartening—and all too relatable to too many travelers—also highlights what happens when someone decides to step up and take a problem into their own hands. Better outcomes come from strong ownership.
Next time you're faced with a challenge, be it at work or in your personal life, remember that the power to take charge, own the situation, and find a solution can often rest with you. Be someone who takes the reins, rather than just passing the buck.
Quote of The Week
"Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result." - Bob Proctor
Have a great weekend!
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