I was talking with a friend the other night whom I had not seen in a few months. He asked how things were going and, as usual, I had a hard time not being pretty transparent. One of the things I shared with him was my disappointment over the recent failure my team and I experienced with our product launch.


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As I shared last week, it was a huge setback, but we are coming back strong. When he asked me what happened, I told him that I didn’t want to go into details but that one of my team members had made a costly mistake. Then I added, “And, it’s my fault.” He was quite surprised by that statement and said, “What do you mean?”

I told him that I am the leader of our team, so ultimately it’s my fault. It happened on my watch and it shouldn’t have. Period.

Now before you begin to give me too much credit (you were, weren’t you?), you need to know that it took me a while to reach the point where I was willing to admit that. It also took being exposed twice to the story of two retired Navy SEAL officers from their book entitled, “Extreme Ownership” and a line from Henry Cloud’s book, “Boundaries for Leaders.” More on Cloud’s book in a few minutes.

It was related to me that in the SEAL book, Jocko Willink shares a story of a mission in Iraq that went wrong, very wrong. Willink was the officer in charge of their unit at the time. There were multiple mistakes made at multiple levels of the unit that resulted in an injured SEAL, one dead ally soldier, and many other SEAL lives that were put in jeopardy.

After the event, Willink called all of his team leaders together to investigate what happened. He asked the group of men whose fault it was. I’m told that after a brief silence, one of the leaders in the room took the blame. Willink disagreed. Then, one by one the other leaders present stepped up and said that it was their fault. After each one, Willink told them they were wrong, that it was someone else’s fault.

So whose fault was it?

Standing Up

Finally, Willink did the unthinkable and said that it was his fault. Yes, there were significant failures by a number of those under his command, but he was the officer in charge. The buck stopped with him. When he submitted his report to the Navy he said, “I had to take complete ownership of what went wrong. That’s what a leader does—even if it means getting fired.”

That’s extreme ownership.

That’s the kind of ownership I knew I needed to take. But, for the first couple of weeks after my team’s event, I operated under the mindset that it was my team member’s fault. I mean, he was the one who made the mistake. Right?


I’m not even sure what it was, exactly, that triggered the thought in my mind for the first time. But when it hit me, it came was with laser clarity. I’m the leader. I own this.

It was my responsibility to foresee the potential for this event. It was my responsibility to make sure the appropriate procedures and accountabilities were put in place to prevent such a failure. It was my responsibility to make sure my team had the right equipment and the right training to prevent this from happening.

I could do what most people do so well and so easily today…blame or play the victim. But, that wouldn’t change the truth of the situation. I’m the leader. I was and am ridiculously in charge. That was the line from Henry Cloud’s book that echoed in my mind.


I’m the leader. I own the failures.


Ridiculously In Charge

As Cloud states in his book, Boundaries for Leaders, “In the end, as a leader, you are always going to get a combination of two things: what you create and what you allow.” Here are some examples of what you and I own. Say these with me:

  • I own the vision and the direction
  • I own the culture of the company and the mindset of our people
  • I own the makeup of the team (the who)
  • I own the systems and the processes
  • I own the results. Ouch!!

Besides the fact that this is the right way to look at the situation, it’s also the best way to look at it, especially for the long-term health of the team. Think about. If Willink had thrown one or more of his guys under the bus, he would have lost credibility with both his team and his superior officers. Neither group would have continued to trust his leadership capabilities.

So, short term, the blame game and a victim mentality appear to gain us some relief or distance from the failure. But long term, they undermine and erode trust and credibility. And, when those are gone, for all intents and purposes, your leadership is gone.

It’s time to step up to the plate and own it. Let’s roll!

Question: What is something that has happened recently for which you need to take ownership? [question]extreme-ownership[/question]