It's a difficult lesson every founder and CEO will have to learn in their career. Whether it's a functional area of the company, or the success of the entire business, the buck stops with the leader. Fault is the responsibility of the leader. Poor management, poor bookkeeping, poor performance, all of it is a reflection of the leader. Some founders learn this early on. Others hop from company to company, playing the role of CEO, never learning how to take ownership over mistakes made by the whole.
When I was running Wilmar as a publicly traded company, that was the first time I really learned how important it was for me to take accountability as the founder and CEO. I tell this story in my book, All In. If something went wrong, I couldn't put the blame on someone else. Investors wouldn't want to hear that, because at the end of the day, someone else's actions (and the results of those actions) are my responsibility. Like Sam Walton says, "The customer can fire everyone from the chairman on down--by taking their business somewhere else."
This ultimately comes down to ego. A lot of leaders love to be the center of attention when things are going good. When things aren't so good, they're nowhere to be found--and that's precisely the problem. But these kinds of leaders never last, and neither do their organizations. Nobody wants to work for someone who can't own up to their own mistakes, and at the same time, never shares the spotlight.
Great companies begin with leaders who know how to take accountability.
This is something I work hard to instill in each one of my ventures. For example, with my most recent company, LendingOne, anything that isn't working is my issue to solve. If the company as a whole doesn't meet its objectives, that's my problem to fix. It's my responsibility to put the right people in the right roles, so that the collective can succeed. And when they do, it's on me to let them know how valued they are to the business.
I've found leaders who aren't able to operate with this sort of mindset worry far more about what others should be doing--opposed to what they, themselves, could be doing better. Look yourself in the mirror. Own it. If you want people in your organization to be accountable, then Show them by being accountable yourself.
The worst trap you can fall into as a founder is to go on playing "the blame game."
The moment you and your partners, or you and your employees just start blaming each other, it's game over. You're no longer searching for solutions. Instead, you're caught up trying to figure out who should feel the worst about the mistake at hand.
None of it matters. Drop it.
Instead, focus your energies on coming together as a team and doing what needs to be done in order to succeed. And if you're the leader, then just know you have to be the one to take the first step. That's your job. And it's your responsibility to show everyone else in your organization the right way to handle conflict and overcome obstacles. Remember, being accountable and responsible isn't something you do. It's a mindset and culture you build for yourself and your team, day in and day out.
Because if you're looking for someone else to take that first step for you, then you're not the leader of the organization.