There Are No Bad Companies, Only Bad CEO's


All humans are born bad leaders.

Leadership is incredibly hard and counterintuitive.

How do you inspire the people under you?

How do you get everyone on the same page?

How do you get them to give 100% and accept full responsibility for fuck-ups?

I think we now know enough about leadership to say that there’s just 1 key variable that separates great leaders from the ones who’re lacking:

Accepting full responsibility and holding oneself accountable.

Or to use a term popularized by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin: taking extreme ownership.

Most bosses are terrible.

Quick to point fingers at anyone but themselves.

In their mind, everyone should accept full responsibility.

But that, strangely, never seems to include them.

The thing about culture is that people don’t care so much about what you say.

Instead, they look at how you behave and at what you choose to accept.

Bill Walsh, legendary coach of the San Fransisco 49ers, often quoted the Greek poet Archilochus:

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

You can talk a big game as CEO but if you display poor behavior (playing the blame game, always having excuses at the ready) and choose to tolerate that in your organization then that’s what your organization will become.

Instead, you should accept FULL responsibility for all bad outcomes.

Accept the mindset that everything that goes wrong is your fault.

How will your team react when you accept responsibility for their mistakes?

If you blame them, they’ll be defensive. If not to your face, then behind your back.

But if you take responsibility, most people will want to reciprocate.

It’s not just a mindset though, it’s the truth.

If your team fails, it’s cause you did something wrong by definition.

You’re in charge. You have all the leverage.

If you’ve tried everything under the sun and they’re still underperforming, then it’s still you who hasn’t fired them and replaced them with qualified people.

Are there never situations where you shouldn’t accept responsibility?

I used to say there probably are… but lately, I’ve become less convinced that’s true.

You see, if you refuse to accept responsibility than your locus of control is external in personality psychology lexicon.

That means that you couldn’t do anything about it and that you can not do anything about it in the future.

Ergo, refusing responsibility implies refusing to learn.

However, if we postulate that there are situations where you shouldn’t take responsibility…

Then you would still need to have the mindset that everything is always your responsibility.


Because of gun safety.

We know that a gun can be empty.

However, when we tell people there are situations when guns can be empty, the number of times that they treat a gun which is actually loaded accidentally as being empty increases. (more false negatives)

So we tell people, guns are ALWAYS loaded and you NEVER point it at something that you aren’t okay killing. (more false positives)

A false negative (thinking it’s empty but it’s loaded) is much more dangerous than a false positive (thinking it’s loaded while it’s empty).

In a similar vein, if (reasoning off our axiom) you adopt the philosophy, that sometimes things aren’t your fault and you shouldn’t take ownership, you’re bound to overshoot and apply that mindset to situations where it’s not applicable.

Put more simply, false negatives increases.

If you flip that logic, the opposite happens. You’ll accept full responsibility in all the true situations and a few false ones (where it’s not your fault).

Again… reasoning off our axiom.

You’ll have a few false positives (it’s my fault, but it wasn’t) but no false negatives (it’s not my fault, but it was).

So it’s not really relevant, whether or not situations exist where something truly isn’t your fault.

Our reasoning shows that your actions should still be the same.

RJ Youngling