What IS the most important characteristic of a leader? Read any leadership book and you will find tens of possible answers: character, strength, a genius IQ. Our research led us to this answer: no excuses. The technical term for this might be “accountability” or “responsibility” but we like “no excuses” because it conveys the real, raw truth of the matter.
The real, raw truth is that a fantastic executive is able to make things happen and she never makes excuses when she can’t do it.
Take the stories of these two real-life executives. One, the CEO of a technology start-up, ran into trouble with her company. The idea of her company was a unique and ingenious one, but she just couldn’t get any traction in the market. A fantastic executive herself, she ordered an immediate review of herself, with interviews from all of her investors and a harsh but truthful look at her executive skills. She found several deficiencies in herself such as a weak financial background and some difficulties in PR and marketing. She instantly hired a consultant to help her with her PR and marketing, and she found a part-time CFO to fill in her financial gap. She started really kicking the market in the teeth and got on the cover of a major magazine.
Another CEO, head of a $35 million technology company that was in the transition phase from startup to mid-size found himself losing the buy-in of his executive team. He lost his VP of Sales and his Chief Engineer before he called us. Then, when we arrived, he went on and on for hours about how the problem was the founder of the business. The only problem with his excuse was that the founder had been around long before the exodus had begun. It just didn’t add up. This CEO was completely unable to look at his own contribution to the recent problems.
The difference between these two types of leaders is a simple one. The first CEO was a no excuses CEO! She was able to face up to her weaknesses and charge ahead with solutions, unfazed by any critical or difficult feedback she might have gotten. The success of the company was more important to her than her personal pride. The other CEO, unfortunately, was so involved in finding who to blame that he couldn’t even see beyond his own nose.
A “no excuses” executive does not judge his company or his team by whether everything is perfect. That would be the wrong standard. The question is whether he can look at his company or team and, despite everything that is wrong, still make things turn out right. In the process, such an executive might even find that he or she has much to learn or many changes to make before all is well. Despite these difficulties, a no excuses executive charges ahead.
If you aren’t sure if you are a “no excuses” leader, take this short quiz:
1. When something goes wrong, do you usually search for who is to blame?
2. First thing in the morning, do you look at the day ahead and see only problems?
3. Do positive people annoy you?
4. Do you wonder why everyone around you is so much dumber or lazier than you?
5. Do you blame any recent career or job failures on the “bad economy”?
If you answered “yes” to more than three of these questions, you are having a tough time being a “no excuses” leader. You may need to take a longer leadership assessment test to determine why you have a tough time taking responsibility.
We are the first to admit that being a “no excuses” leader is not easy. On rough days or around tax time, we all might wish for a good scapegoat. The hard, unfriendly truth of the matter is that those who have the most success are the ones who can look at any situation and determine how they caused it.
So if you are looking at a financial disaster in your company, or a human resources nightmare, or any of the myriad problems that can occur, pull yourself up by the bootstraps and consider this:
1. Just because you are “no excuses” does not mean you should engage in self-pity or blame. Just acknowledge the situation and get moving on a solution.
2. A good analysis of how the problem occurred goes a long way toward solving it. If you can’t figure it out, get a professional in the area to help you.
3. Don’t get distracted. Just because something is unpleasant does not mean you should avoid it. Put on your riot gear and attack!
4. There’s nothing better than getting it DONE! So take that big, hairy problem, tackle it, get it done and move ahead!
Finally, remember this brilliant quote from Thomas Edison: “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”
So go find some opportunities! No excuses!