Assuming Responsibility — A Key Trait for Successful Entrepreneurs

Summary: Many people strive for success as an entrepreneur, yet few succeed. One of the main factors driving success as an entrepreneur is the ability to control outcomes. However, to achieve this, entrepreneurs must first do one crucial thing: Assume responsibility.

Let’s first look at the lives of people who do not have this trait: People blame the job market for their unemployment. Managers blame their staff for missing deadlines. And people blame their Uber drivers and traffic for showing up late to an appointment.

All of these examples have one thing in common: The people blame others for the misfortunes happening to them. Early on in my career, I’ve learned that there is a better way: Assume responsibility for all bad things happening to you and think through how taking different actions could have prevented them.

In the short term, blaming others is easier and more psychologically comforting. There is an immediate pay-off, a kind of quick-fix reward, that comes from letting yourself off the hook. That’s why some people chronically avoid personal responsibility. After all, behaviour that is rewarded is behaviour that is likely to repeat.

However, when you make the cognitive shift to realise that the long term costs of persistently externalising blame is far greater than the short term payoff, you are on the way to changing your life and success outcomes for the better. Instead, you can focus on the long term rewards that come from taking control over your fate, and learn to make taking responsibility for what you can control a habit.

“It’s my fault, not your fault.”

At first, this notion sounds a bit silly: How could you possibly be at fault if your hairdresser ruins your haircut? However, a winning mindset would take control of the situation by checking reviews on Google or making sure to specifically show the hairdresser how the cut should look using pictures. Considering the example of an underperforming employee, you could have done a better job at hiring, coaching, or task prioritisation. Again, you could say it’s not the employee’s fault, but your own.

More generally, I’ve yet to find a situation except for extreme edge cases where you cannot identify different behaviour on your behalf that may have prevented a negative outcome. I call this the “It’s my fault, not your fault” mental model. According to this model, you assume that everything bad happening in life and business is your own responsibility.

Of course, nobody likes doing this. Looking at problems that you have personally caused is not fun. I know from experience. But assuming responsibility for things that go wrong puts you on a path to success eventually. This is because it shifts control to you. Thinking about how failure may have been prevented allows you to create systems (Ray Dalio calls them “Machines”) to gradually smooth the way you and your company operate. It allows you to plan better for the future, empowering you to prevent such mistakes from being made again.

Personal Accountability: A System for Success

To emphasise how this process works, let’s have a look at the following chart: Essentially, this is a feedback loop process. After a mistake has been made, there are two possibilities: accept the failure or ignore it. The first will allow you to adjust your own behaviour and prevent future problems. You can turn a mistake into a step to success. Ignorance will only lead to a continual spiral, and eventual disaster.

One example of this comes from the Japanese cuisine in the preparation of Fugu, the meat of a poisonous puffer fish. Certain body parts of the fish are so deadly that roughly 5 people per year die in Japan from its consumption. Hence, chefs have developed a system that mandates the arrangement of all poisonous body parts neatly cut-out on the chopping board. This prevents deaths of consumers in professional restaurants. In fact, there is an urban legend that chefs commit suicide if their customer dies as a result of Fugu consumption. Take that as example of taking responsibility!

To conclude, taking responsibility enables you to elevate your success. By assuming you are at fault for your misfortunes, you can get control over what happens and design systems to prevent failure in the future. This leads to a spiral of success since, over the long haul, fewer unfortunate things will happen to you due to your willingness to systematise personal accountability.

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