Problems and Owning Them — CEOs Only

Big Red Car here on a listless Sunday afternoon. Been to church for a good sermon, wondering if the minister was talking directly to or about ME. That hurts. I think he wastalking about me.

So, The Boss is talking to a lot of new client CEOs and there is a troubling new development bubbling up. Not really troubling, but noteworthy.

You must own your problems if you are going to deal with and overcome them. This is different than saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

Go read: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys — Advice for CEOs << link 

The Boss is always reminded of a time when he was in the Army when a pal of his, in a moment of extremis, said, “Hold my beer. I’ve got to deal with this.”

“This” was a couple of long-haired-ruffians of the City of Brotherly Love bar fight scene who did not like soldiers, a common enough occurrence at the time. The odds were a little out of balance — two of them, one soldier. The Boss was available as a reinforcement, but his pal said, “I own this problem and I’ll fix it.”

There was some theorem of calculus or quantum physics which gave rise to the clash of ideas. I can’t remember exactly. In the end, the soldier (a Ranger School grad) handled the problem quite nicely though The Boss did drink his beer. Bought him another one.


The Boss is a huge fan of delegation and thinks that the ultimate CEO nirvana is delegating all of your job duties and then reducing oneself to an “instrument” CEO, looking at the performance indicators and pointing out lagging performance to the appropriate delegatee, who is then supposed to fix the problem.

The Boss says he got to that point a few times in his business career, but the Big Red Car is not so sure.

When you delegate a responsibility, you also have to empower the delegatee with the appropriate level of authority. If you send someone to drain the swamp, then you have to send him with a rifle of sufficient caliber to kill the alligators first and, then, a set of wrenches of appropriate size to turn the nuts and open the valves. [I think we have beaten the tar out of that analogy. Whew!]

Owning the problems

Like the soldier who said, “Hold my beer. I’ve got to deal with this,” there are some problems that are owned by the CEO. A smart CEO knows what they are.

Here are a few of them:

 1. Vision,
2. Mission,
3. Strategy (the view from 30,000 feet).
4. Values,
5. The initial inoculation of culture,
6. Hiring,
7. Money (both operating funds and employee compensation)
8. Discipline,
9. Dealing with the board of directors and investors
10. Dealing with the cap table and co-founders

The list could go on a bit more, but the Big Red Car is getting tired and you know what is meant by these things. Build your own damn list.

There are some things which the CEO owns. Many of them, once done, only have to be tweaked and modified periodically. As an example, values should be forever, but there might be the odd thing which needs to be added from time to time.

Natural tendency

What is happening is a sense that the CEO does not own these problems and that they are attributable to something beyond the CEO’s control. Like a runaway market or a ruthless competitor or the inability to raise money.  Cut that out.

Still, the CEO — even if not able to solve or overcome the problem — owns the problem.

Just because you say, “Hold my beer” does not mean it will turn out fine. Sometimes, you get a fat lip and go home to put some ice on it. That’s life.

But, CEOs, own your damn problems.

OK, that’s enough for today.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car, y’all. Crush this week.cropped-LTFD-illust_300.png



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