The Root of All Business Problems


Leadership is the root of all business problems.

Specifically, problems arise when leaders fail to own what’s happening in their organization. They blame their crew, the leaders below them, or the leaders above them—anybody but themselves.

When leaders stop blaming and start taking ownership, it completely changes the organization. 

In this article, Randy Blount shares how he took extreme ownership in his company, how it helped, and how you can do the same.

What is extreme ownership?

Extreme ownership is a principle that says leaders are responsible for everything that happens on their team. And that means all business problems are leadership problems


The concept comes from former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. After serving as SEALs, they co-wrote their bestselling book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. They also started a company called Echelon Front to teach leaders the principles they learned in combat.

Randy Blount read Extreme Ownership and attended an Echelon Front MUSTER event to learn how he could apply this concept to his company, Blount Contracting. 

While Randy is quick to point out that he isn’t perfect at extreme ownership, he says, “It's pretty pivotal in my leadership growth.” And it can be pivotal in your growth, too.

Here’s how it works.

Changing your mindset

The basic concept of extreme ownership is that “ultimately most of it falls back on you,” Randy says.

When you realize that everything below you is your responsibility, it changes how you talk about your people. You quit saying things like, “Our people aren't good” or “I don't know why they did it that way.” 

Randy explains, “You start realizing, All these things that get said in our organization follow me. So what that means is, hey, let's reevaluate all these things that aren't happening right. What have I done and what has my leadership team done to fix them?” 

Then, it’s time to take the next step and start solving  problems. Let’s look at three ways Randy did that at Blount and how you can do the same in your organization.

1. Help people solve problems

At Blount, some field crews had near-misses that could have been fatal. 

“We had somebody who was setting grade, and a motor grader was backing up and it brushed them,” Randy recalls. “The person fell over. They didn't get hurt at all, but it was like, ‘Holy cow, somebody could have died today.’” 

In that scenario, it would have been tempting for Randy to say the blade operator and grade checker weren't paying attention.

“But I realized that's not their fault. That's my fault. I'm the one who’s gonna make the phone call if somebody doesn't go home,” Randy says. 

Randy and his leadership team had to own the problem. 

First, they shut down that job—and every other job in the company.

Then, leadership told every crew what happened and asked them to hold 15 minute safety stand downs so they could brainstorm ways to keep grade checkers safe. 

Now, it might sound weird that leadership asked field crews to solve the problem. How is that taking ownership? 

Simple: good leaders take responsibility, but they also know when they’re not closest to the situation. So they empower their people to help solve the problems.

As Randy points out, “I can say, ‘We just aren't gonna put grade checkers where motor graders are.’ Well, guess what? They're not going to follow that policy because it's dumb. Grade checkers have to be close to motor graders.” 

And in this case, saying the grader and the grade checker needed to make eye contact wouldn’t fix the situation, since the motor grader didn’t see the grade checker. 

Instead, the field crews suggested that grade checkers who were kneeling to work had to have a spotter. Then, Randy and his leadership team made spotting the responsibility of the foreman and superintendent.

That way, everyone knew what to do in the future, and the incident didn’t happen again. 

While Randy respects that there’s inherent risk in any Dirt World work, he adds that built-in risk isn’t an excuse to let problems continue. “We can mitigate a lot of that risk, and extreme ownership’s a big part of that,” he says. 

2. Train people

At some point, you’ve probably hired somebody new and then a few weeks later you found out they weren’t doing well in their position.

Many leaders would say, “This project engineer is terrible. They don't know how to do projections, they don't know how to do job costing, and they can't put together a work plan.” 

But leadership is assuming the project engineer has been trained to do those things and stinks at them. The more obvious (and more likely) problem is that the project engineer never got good training.

With extreme ownership, a leader looks at the person who’s struggling and says, “What have we done to make them successful?” 

If you haven’t given a specific worker the required skills, that’s a leadership problem.

For example, Randy asks, “Did we take that blade operator who was really good at running the blade and make him a superintendent—and now we can't figure out why he can't manage people and schedules and material supply? If we didn't do anything to give him skills, the only person that's failing is us. Not the operator who got no training to be a superintendent.” 

Randy says it’s critical for leaders to own up to this.

He says, “I hear this all the time: ‘Where's the good leaders in construction? We can't find them.’ Well, that's on us.” 

Instead of looking for good leaders, Randy says, train them.

“We recognize that's hard to do. We're busy. We have a lot going on,” he points out. But it’s also a must. It’s up to you to take extreme ownership and figure out how to work training into your company policy. 

One easy way to do that? Training software that comes in a quick, user-friendly mobile app.

3. Don’t play the blame game

When a job is totally underperforming, it’s tempting to look for scapegoats—especially if it’s a big job.

Maybe you blame the estimator for not putting enough money in certain line items or the superintendent for not getting the production that's on the bid. 

But according to Randy, “Blame game gets you nowhere.” 

If you want to get back on track, you’ve got to stop blaming and start empowering your people. 

Randy advises leaders to rally their team at the executive level. Then, he says, “Tell them, ‘This job is underperforming. I'm not sure why—it could be the estimate, it could be production. But what can we do to be better?’”

During this meeting, dive into every detail and let everything be on the table. Even if you think an idea is dumb, play it out—because you may just be missing something that someone else sees.

Randy recalls, “We had a job we won, and we had no idea how we were going to make money. We won it and then we were like, ‘Oh crap, we're gonna lose a lot.’” 

So his team did what we just talked about. 

They didn’t call in the estimator and berate them for making a mistake. Instead, they acknowledged that the mistake was unintentional and that the estimator probably learned a lot and probably wouldn’t do it again. Then, they talked about how to avoid a big loss.

“We all just said, ‘What can we do to make this job go better?’ And we turned that job that we thought were going to lose money on into a 10% profit,” Randy explains. 

That all happened because instead of playing the blame game, they looked at what they needed to do and set realistic goals. 

When you do that, everybody wins—from the company to the customer to the team.

Extreme ownership as a path to growth

Extreme ownership is for any leader—and anyone aspiring to become one. And it has impressive benefits for both individuals and organizations.

Personal growth

When you take extreme ownership, you can rise in any organization. 

Randy gives this example:

Let’s say your boss asks you what’s going on with a project that’s struggling. Instead of blaming someone else, you say, “It's my fault. We didn't have a good enough plan, but we're working on it and we'll have you a good plan in two weeks.” And then you deliver on that.

“Instantly it changes the trajectory of your career,” Randy says. 

Taking ownership at every level builds trust, and then others become willing to teach you and give you new opportunities. 

Randy adds, “If they don't reciprocate, shame on that company. [But] I promise you, your career will be so good if you take extreme ownership. There will be people who see that—whether it's in that organization or another—and you will be rewarded for that. You will have a great career.”

Organizational growth 

When you take extreme ownership, you’re showing people below you how to take ownership, too. 

That’s important, because you want everybody in the organization to practice this—whether they have 40 years of experience or 40 minutes.  

“The interesting thing is extreme ownership, when it's taken at all levels, affects the bottom line of the company,” Randy says. 

Maybe a laborer just handed someone a shovel quickly. Then you might have been able to install an extra two feet of pipe an hour. That's an extra stick a day. That adds up on a project and helps the bottom line—and then everybody in the organization is better off. 

Randy explains, “If you're working in a good business, they should be investing in their people. There should be profit sharing. There should be better benefits. The company will be there next year.” 

Extreme ownership helps make all those things happen.  


Taking extreme ownership starts with changing your mindset. 

You decide to take responsibility for everything that happens below you. Then, you do three key things:

  1. Help people solve problems
  2. Train people
  3. Don’t play the blame game 

As you model extreme ownership, that will encourage others to do the same. And when everyone starts taking ownership, individuals and companies grow.



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