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Recently I had a full day of meetings with chaotic juxtapositions of people.
In one meeting, the person I interacted with was awesome. He owned everything that was going on in his company – good and bad. He was clear minded. He knew what was working, what wasn’t working, and what he needed to change. And he took responsibility for it.
Immediately after, I had a non-scheduled conference call to try to get something wrapped up. It was a total waste of 15 minutes of time where the person on the other end simply refused to take responsibility for something that should have been easy for them to take responsibility for. After 15 minutes of back and forth, it was clear that the other person had no interest in taking responsibility for something I thought he should. And he couldn’t make the case for why, other than “because I don’t want to.”
I eventually gave up.
I then switched to a call with a CEO who was exploring something new. She asked a series of clear and direct questions, knowing that it was her responsibility to make a decision about what to do. It was easy to be on the receiving end of a series of challenging questions as she tried to get as much data as she could out of me as she formulated her point of view. Whatever decision she makes will be fine with me – it’ll be a thoughtful one that she owns.
After a long day, I came home to an inbox with 200 emails in it. I spend two hours grinding through them. As I was reading, responding, and archiving, I started noticing that many of the strong CEOs I work with owned whatever was going on at their company. There was simplicity in this – no blame, no excuses, no justification. They just took ownership.
While there were lots of other emails where the person owned whatever was going on, there were many situations where this wasn’t the case. This was especially true with a few entrepreneurs struggling to raise money, or asking questions about situations they had gotten themselves into, such as a poor allocation of equity to co-founders, where a co-founder had left, but there hadn’t been any vesting. While more obvious in situations where things weren’t working, this was also true in situations where there was ambiguity around what was going on.
When I step back and ponder this, the CEOs I respect the most are the ones who take responsibility for the actions of their company. Good or bad, successful or not, they don’t shirk any responsibility, blame anyone, or try to make excuses. They just own things, and if they need to be fixed, they fix them.
What kind of CEO are you?