Own your Successes, and your Failures


September 30, 2013

Nashville Business Journal


From the time I wake up each morning I know that I am 100 percent accountable for everything I do. I take responsibility for every action I take and every word I speak. I know there is never a right time to place blame on others for the things I do.

As a business leader, I also know that I am “on stage” all the time. Everything I do reflects on my character and reputation.

Crack a good joke that makes others laugh, and I’m off to a good start. Try an off-color joke, and I never know who I may have offended. Sound, act and look like a grouch and that is how others will see me.

I’m also accountable when I deliver a speech. If it’s good, I see people paying attention, taking notes and giving feedback afterward. On the other hand, if I see eyes wandering and mouths whispering, I know I have not connected. But ultimately, this, too, is on my shoulders.

I have screwed up many times in my long career — we all have. When I realize what I have done, however, I take personal responsibility, acting quickly to repair whatever is broken.

If the problem is operational, then I work to fix the mess as fast as is practical. If it is a matter of interpersonal communication that turned out badly, I work to mend the wounds as soon as possible. In most cases a simple yet sincere apology usually gets things back on track.

Over the years I have been in a position to make some pretty big decisions. The higher a leader’s rank, the greater the impact of those decisions. I have made some good ones, and I have made some doozies. For those missteps, it’s crucial to say loudly, “I screwed up,” because everyone else already knows it. If you don’t acknowledge the facts, you just appear as a cowardly buffoon in the eyes of your team.

The same principles apply in my personal life. If I messed up something with my wife, I start with an apology and work forward from there. In earlier years, I scheduled my time to attend my daughter’s swim meets and my son’s baseball games, and if I had to miss one I took personal responsibility.

The point is that we are responsible for our actions — all of them — and any attempt to deny or postpone that just puts us deeper in quicksand.

As leaders, no matter what we do, good or bad, we are singularly accountable.

Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO and chariman of Tractor Supply Co. Reach him at joe@joescarlett.com.

Comments and Discussion:

Joe Scarlett has shown up for me as fully committed to the personal accountability he addresses in this piece. Thank you, Joe, for the inspiration and the stand you take on personal responsibility. Fred Lane

Posted Sep 25, 2013 at 8:09 AM by Fred Lane

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