The Root of All Business Problems

All problems in business are leadership problems. Learn how adopting this principle can propel you to tackle your challenges and grow your business.

In discussing the root of all business problems, it’s nearly impossible not to discuss the concept of extreme ownership. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin first topped the New York Times Best Sellers list, reaching #1 in Business, in December 2015 with “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.”

Blount sees this book as pivotal to his growth. He first read the book a few years ago and has pursued training with Willink for members of his team.

The concept of extreme ownership asks what leaders have done to make their people successful and suggests that every problem is a leadership problem. “Ultimately, most of it falls back on you,” Blount said. And the language you use matters: Don’t say, “Our people aren’t good. I don’t know why they did it that way.” Take ownership and personal responsibility for whatever outputs your people produce.

Evaluate your — and your leadership team’s — role in addressing issues that arise. It’s so easy to rush to blame, or to blame someone else, for something that is yours to own.

A small, but critical, shift in philosophy.

Blount recounted a story where a motor grader didn’t see a grade checker, which could have resulted in a serious injury, or worse. Instead of saying, “We had a near miss, we need to change it,” we stopped that job. And they asked for a 15-minute safety stand-down on how to keep grade checkers safe.

The leader of the company is not close enough to the specific situation to judge, so everyone brainstormed and shared what they came up with. They worked on basic guidelines: If a task requires kneeling down, you have to have a spotter — which is the responsibility of the foreman and superintendent. In this case, the motor grader didn’t see that grade checker. Saying they need to have eye contact wouldn’t fix the situation, since their eyes didn’t meet.

While Blount respects that there’s risk inherent in any construction work, he doesn’t use the built-in risk as an excuse. He said, “Of course there’s risk in what you do, but don’t justify near misses on that basis.”

Likewise, he doesn’t want to assume that someone who’s not doing well in their position knows how to perform their role successfully. Blount advises that rather than saying, “This person’s not good,” leaders at all levels should look at their training and ask why they’re not able to be successful. And then ask, “What have we done to help make them successful?”

A big reason for not playing the blame game.

With extreme ownership, if you haven’t given a specific worker the required skills, that is a leadership problem.

Blount gave an example where a blade operator was promoted into a supervisory role without the proper preparation: “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 that got no training to be a superintendent. And I really think this is a consistent issue in construction. And we as owners, leaders, we need to own up and say, ‘This is on us.’”

A hot topic in the Dirt World — Where are the new leaders coming from? — also “is on us,” according to Blount. Sure, it can be hard to train properly when everyone’s busy, with so much going on. But even with effective company policies in place, you have to take extreme ownership and personal responsibility.

When, especially, a larger job underperforms, it’s tempting to look for scapegoats. “Don’t play the blame game. It gets you nowhere,” said Blount. Rally your team. Admit that you don’t know why or where the issues are arising and ask the right questions. It’s important to involve everyone and to respect that most mistakes are not intentional. Use them for the learning opportunities that they are.

Identify what you can and will do, instead of blaming. And are these tasks and goals realistic? If so, once you’re determined the strategy, implement it and see what happens. Ultimately, everybody wins: your team, the client, and your employees.


“Extreme ownership is not an owner’s principle,” said Blount. “This is a leadership principle. Take ownership of everything that you have responsibility over. And don't make excuses.”

When you’re just starting out, you may not have responsibility over much. But start where you are, with the small tasks you do control. Take extreme ownership and grow it as your role grows. Look for solutions. Offer a plan and deliver on it.

“Don’t just own the problem — find a solution. Stay after it, and you'll be the better for it. So will your organization. It will be a really good experience,” said Blount. “You can rise in any organization, if you just start embracing the issues below you, and finding solutions.”

Extreme ownership applies to every man and woman on your job site and to your clients and customers. “If you take extreme ownership,” said Blount, “There will be people — whether inside your company or elsewhere — who will see that, and you will have a great career."