Every parent has heard their child whine “but that’s not fair” to which parents throughout generations have responded, “life is not fair.” Unexpected events occur all the time. Some surprises leave us in a better place.  People are quick to pridefully explain how they are responsible for the sudden success. Yet, the same people deflect responsibility when an unexpected event has a negative impact. It simply is not their fault. Despite being years older, often our response to “bad luck” events is still to waive the victim flag and cry, “but that’s not fair.”

My strength coach on the Oregon football team, Jim Radcliffe, practiced the simple mantra, “no excuses.” As an eighteen year old, I did not fully appreciate the implications of embracing this principle would have on my life. When a car accident created an unexpected traffic delay one day during my freshman year, I showed up a few minutes late for a weight lifting session. The first words out of my mouth were, “I’m sorry I’m late coach, there was traffic.” Coach Radcliffe without a second thought rejected the excuse: “You’re not a victim. You decided when to leave for practice.” I ended up running Autzen stadium the following morning at 5:45 AM with my coach.

Great businesses often do not possess better strategy; rather, they possess cultures of accountability and simply execute better than their peers. Though business failures often involve extenuating circumstances and shared fault, the great businesses have leaders who take responsibility for the results. Energy is not wasted pointing fingers. By not entertaining excuses, these business leaders empower people to take ownership of their behaviors and their results. It is subtle, but a culture of excuses position people as powerless victims of circumstance. It robs people of the knowledge that they influence their own life in radical ways every day.

We don’t get to choose all the opportunities that come our way, but we do get to choose the way we respond to them. Life is not always fair. Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” Great business leaders take responsibility for their execution. Accepting responsibility for personal failure in business is incredibly difficult, yet is often a sign of a powerful leader.

What’s the last business failure you took responsibility for and how did it ultimately help your team or organization?