Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

CEOs – take one for the team

CEOs are accountable for the success or failure at their organizations. CEOs are human and therefore, fallible. Things go wrong, and that’s normal. CEOs, even the omnipotent type, will never change one thing: stumbling at certain points of the CEO’s leadership journey. Believing that the opposite is possible, is creating a world of make-believe.

Take one for the team - that is leadership
Take one for the team – that is leadership

When things go wrong CEOs should take responsibility for the mess – simple. That’s what leadership is all about – accountable leadership, we must add

CEOs or equivalent – be it in a family, peer team, organization, or nation-state work with the people below them. In the ideal world, CEOs define the roadmap to achieve the Vision; and their teams sweat to implement the roadmap and ultimately deliver desired outcomes.

Suffice it said that CEOs watch over what is happening from the pedestal – they address bottlenecks as and when they arise, re-calibrate Vision roadmaps and accompanying business value chains, plus isolate who amongst the team is not pulling their weight and either help them learn how to fulfill their responsibility or fire them. The CEO’s number one job is to get the best out of their teams, without having to do the team’s work directly – a tough balancing act.

Accountability for the CEO, unlike for the individuals below them, is final.  And sadly, there is not always room for CEOs to fix what has gone wrong – CEOs carry ultimate responsibility for both the rights and wrongs in a given situation. The finality of CEO accountability is a burden even for the very best of CEOs

Of course – in the dog eat dog, shark-tank world of modern leadership, CEOs may opt for the easy answer when things go wrong at their organizations – passing the buck. Because CEOs have the privilege to boss others, blaming individuals and teams that report to the CEO for whatever goes wrong, is an ever available quick-fix when there is trouble at the organization.

At the Effectiveness lab, we believe that classic leaders take one for the team and not once, but every time something goes wrong. It’s painful to take one for the team, but quintessential leaders understand that it comes with the territory of classic leadership – they do not pass the buck.

At the same time, taking one for the team does not equate to letting nonconforming individuals and teams off the hook. After CEOs take one for the team, they create time with their teams, to discuss what they have not done well. In a non-sandwiched manner, negative feedback has to be passed on to those that failed the leader, and a remedy agreed

So, how does a CEO take one for the team but still unleash the right accountability treatment?

  1. The buck stops with the leader. So even if the CEO’s juniors do not deliver the required outcomes, as the CEO you are ultimately accountable. When held to account for the organization’s failings, reference to what your juniors did or did not do should be minimal, if at all. Take the fire, make sure you sleep on it and for many nights if necessary, before going back to the team. The more calm and rational the CEO is when giving negative feedback to those that report to them, the more effective feedback is for the team. Negative feedback impacts company bottom line metrics when the individuals CEOs lead effectively learn from such feedback. Giving feedback to staff while in a ‘box’ only creates negative energy, counters effective learning, and undermines morale and ultimately bottom line metrics at the company
  2. Only when the timing is right, and your body clock tells you when the time is right, should a CEO give negative feedback to individuals/teams. Negative feedback should not be sandwiched. Instead, leaders should share with their juniors: what they did not do correct, why they believe it was not done correctly, as well as putting on the table appropriate remedies. The leader should allow the other side the opportunity to respond, before agreeing on the next steps to correct the status-quo.
  3. The CEO and the team should agree on remedies to correct the performance failing – discuss what needs to be done different – the support needed from the leader – clear lines of accountability at both individual and team level – and consensual agreement that failure will lead to a more stern reprimand
  4. Continuous coaching and mentoring of those they boss – leaders do not give feedback and walk away anticipating that the ‘bossed’ will remedy their failings without support. Even if the latter were true, there is no harm conducting ‘accountability pit-stops,’ just in case the team needs support

So, with the millennial generation dominating the global workforce, human sensitive approaches to ‘bossing’ others are paramount to keeping a relatively stable and productive workforce. While not always visible to the novice OD. eye, the cost of an unsettled staff team is something organizations should avoid.


How Leaders Survive Periodic-Leadership-Bumps

CEOs – will always get the opportunity to unleash negative feedback on the failing and failed, however, how it’s done determines whether active learning happens or not.  Classic CEOs always take one for the team and when the time is right, face the team to discuss the matter in a: candid and firm manner


3 responses to “CEOs – take one for the team”

  1. Thanks Apollo for sharing this knowledge; Balancing the impact of giving feedback without sandwiching the feedback and negative energy after giving feedback is critical.

    I like your example – “Even Jesus died for our sins”


    1. JS – thanks for reading and indeed, leaders should sacrifice self, like Jesus did, for Christians like you and me


  2. Reblogged this on Gabazira's blog and commented:

    CEOs carry final accountability for business decisions at the entities they lead. When others do wrong, with or without the CEOs knowledge, it’s the CEO they look at. Pls. learn to take the bullet for team! Even Jesus died for our sins – good reading!


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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