During my career in the NFL, I played in three Super Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings. We lost all three games. From the moment each game ended and ever since, I have only held one person responsible: me.
We lost those games because I didn’t play well enough. If I had made more plays, if I had completed more passes, if I had played better, we might have won those games. But I didn’t, and we lost. I was the quarterback, I was the leader. It was on me.
Harry Truman famously had a sign on his desk in the White House that said “The Buck Stops Here.” That’s how it should be for any leader, whether it’s in politics, sports, or business. If I’m the leader, then I have to hold myself accountable for our performance—and I expect others to hold me accountable, too.
It would not have been right for me to find someone else to blame for our failures in the Super Bowl. “Oh, if only he had caught that pass,” or “If the defense had done such and such,” or “If they had done better.” No! If you’re going to be the leader, you can’t suddenly shrink into the background just because you’re encountering problems.
Too many “leaders” think that their job is to be out in public getting all the glory whenever things are good, and then to assign blame to others when something goes wrong. Got good news? It’s I, me, my. Bad news? “Mistakes were made.” “They” got it wrong.
I think that is completely backwards. When things are going well, a leader should share the glory with his team. Teams win, so when you win it’s time to celebrate the whole team! “We did something great!” But when you lose, that’s when it’s the leader’s job to own the mistake.
Bad news does not get better with age. The only way you can fix problems is when you take accountability for what happened and take steps to learn from the mistake and get better. If you’re too busy finding scapegoats and assigning blame, there’s no learning happening.
When we lost those Super Bowls, it was on me. But we learned and got better each time. That only happened because we had a culture of accountability, not blame.