Share the Success, Shoulder the Blame

As the owner of a fast-growing and fabulous company, I have the honor and privilege of accepting a lot of awards. Legion is constantly winning something, somewhere. At these events, I’m always congratulated for MY work, as if the 50 hours a week I spend in the office and doing Legion events is the only reason we’re a $25 million company. In every situation, I say thank you graciously, but immediately defer credit to the incredible team we’ve built here at Legion. I cannot and could not be the single driver of our success, and I try to make that clear all the time. And I know my business partner, Tony, feels the same way.

Even last week, when I won the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award, I fully acknowledged that it takes a village to make me a good business owner. Tony and I work tirelessly together to make Legion’s strategy and growth clear, but our employees are the ones who put in the daily work to make that vision come to fruition. We share every accolade, every goal-breaking, and every bit of press and praise with each and every one of the 55 people who call Legion their work home.

And every good business owner I’ve ever known has done the same thing. You’ll never see a truly successful business owner standing in front of a crowd saying he or she did it alone. We all recognize the importance of having the right team members in place to make a business successful.

But do you know what a business owner IS responsible for, 100 percent? The failure of his or her business. Success takes many people working in the same direction. Failure takes one person, at the top, making the wrong decisions, setting the wrong tone, choosing the wrong path. No matter who your team is, you chose them. No matter who your customers are, you chose them. No matter when you started your business, what services or products you offer, how you finance it, those are all choices YOU made, as the owner and the one signing on the bottom line. The buck stops with you.

Whenever I hear a (typically former) business owner place blame for the failure of their venture on employees, I immediately lose respect for him or her. Passing the buck to any other person or situation just clarifies for me that you did not have the correct grasp on your business model and execution. (And trust me, I’ve had failed businesses before. The first one failed because I didn’t love and believe in the product. The second one failed because I didn’t choose the right business partner and I didn’t stay involved enough to know when things were going south. A new business can never operate on auto-pilot, and I forgot that.)

When you start a business, you should be so intimately involved with every decision that nothing is a surprise. As the business starts to grow, you should have chosen individuals to run those areas whom you trust implicitly and who have proven themselves to be worthy of the delegation. If neither of those happen, or if the decisions you make are the wrong ones, it is your fault. Period.

This is the great burden of being a business owner – you must absolutely accept responsibility for the bad times, and immediately deflect praise for the good times.  Or, in a catchier version, share the success and shoulder the blame. It’s how I live every day and it is advice I give anyone who tells me they want to start a business.