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4 Honest Truths That Will Make You a Better Boss When the buck stops with you, you've got to be prepared for all that entails — both sucking up the losses and sharing the wins. There's nothing you can physically do to train for this inevitability; rather, it's a mental exercise of reframing that will maintain your balance as the boss.

By Emily Reynolds Bergh

Key Takeaways

  • It's about accountability, not blame, when the boss has to take one for the team.
  • Keeping the team running well is the only way to find balance between the good news and the bad news.
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At lunch with a potential client recently, he said something interesting: "Every mistake that is made in my company is ultimately my fault, and yet every win is accredited to me too. It's a weird dynamic, because neither side of this equation is accurate and yet both sides — at least in the public eye — are true." As the CEO of a team of 15+ team members, I immediately got what he was saying and realized it's part of my daily role.

Think about it: The ground-shattering advancements of Apple have historically been attributed to just Steve Jobs. When Tesla stock goes down, it's all Elon Musk's fault. And when people think "Amazon," they think "Jeff Bezos" — no other name at all except Bezos. The space heater that didn't arrive the day it was supposed to? Bezos better get on that!

But of course, none of this is the case, is it? No single business owner, whether they have a team of 15, 1,500 or 15,000, can possibly be responsible for every single thing that goes on in the company, and they sure as heck aren't responsible for all the things that go right. And yet they're routinely assigned this burden. That's an awful lot of weight on the shoulders of leaders. How you carry it is up to you.

Some truths about being the boss

In my 15 years of running my own PR firm, I've been on both sides of this seesaw. I've sat on the side of a client singing my praises to the skies for a fundraiser that exceeded expectations, and I've also been harshly reprimanded by a client who was sorely disappointed by the lackluster results of their press release pickup. In the first instance, it was my events coordinator who chose the venue, the date, the band, everything; in the second, there's only so much you can do if the media is simply not at all interested in your widget.

In both cases, I've had to assess what is real and true for me, and I've come to some conclusions about being responsible for the whole shebang. Interestingly, most of what rings true is about the value of my team, not me.

Related: Don't Let Your Biggest Client Become Your Biggest Nightmare — You Should Fire Them Instead. Here's Why.

Truth #1: You can't manage effectively without delegating

Even bosses of small teams know that they can't do every task themselves and have their whole hand in every pie. I'm not advising bird's-eye management, but micromanaging isn't the answer either. You'll limit your vision of the big picture by concentrating too much on the pixels, and you'll stymie your staff to the point of building hostility and resentment.

I field about 2,000 emails a day. It just isn't realistic or sustainable for me to have to follow through on each and every one of those emails. I have to forward most of them on for implementation; I have to delegate to manage the workload so my company can succeed and thrive. Delegation means getting things done better and faster than I could ever pull off alone. Delegation makes sense, and it affords room for growth. But when you don't see every single document produced and every single assignment completed, it also means that something can go awry at any time.

Truth #2: Some mistakes are not your own

Over the summer, my bags were hugely delayed after a flight. I was livid with the airlines, and when I got home, I sent a strongly worded letter to the head honcho expressing my discontent. The fact of the matter was that it was the contracted baggage handling company at the airport that was at fault, but that didn't matter to me in my anger. I threatened the airline to never fly them again if they didn't shape up.

The same will happen to you. Embarrassing typos that get published. Misstatements by others you wish could be retracted. An employee having a public meltdown one day under extreme stress. You weren't a direct part of any of this — you did not take these missteps. Doesn't matter. Does. Not. Matter. You're in charge, and when a team member makes a mistake (as humans are wont to do), you have to own the mistake as yours. Your staff will not only love you for it, they'll remain loyal. It's not just the right thing to do, it's the only thing to do to maintain morale and support the people who propel your business forward.

Related: 7 Mistakes That Make or Break Small Businesses

Truth #3: None of the glory is your own

Bosses can easily get a big head when they win a nifty award, slay it at the board meeting or see record profits. Did you earn all this yourself? Do you deserve the credit for all this? No, you absolutely did not and do not.

I can't think of one fellow entrepreneur I know who got where they are now just on their own coattails. If we're honest with ourselves, we all know that we simply couldn't proceed and progress without Amanda's diligence, Ty's way with numbers, and Steph's IT prowess. I don't care how proud or excited you are about a worthy accomplishment; you should not only share the laurels but plant them firmly in your team's camp, never your own office. Sometimes, you didn't make the mistake that got you into some hot water for a time. All the time, I'd be willing to bet, you alone didn't bring about the achievement you're celebrating. The celebration belongs to the team that made it happen for your company.

Truth #4: The buck IS yours; take it

All of this is to say that the buck does stop with you. So grab it and put it in your pocket, no one else's. Do not encumber your staff with an affliction they did not mean to create or an onus that is not theirs to bear. Being the boss means holding tight to the reins of leadership when the ride is smooth and when the ride is bumpy.

This all comes with time and practice. Accepting the blame and deflecting the credit aren't always easy shifts to make in your mindset — at first, it's natural to get defensive when something goes amiss on your watch that you weren't aware of, and it's equally natural to want to rejoice in your triumphs. But ultimately, it's empowering to train your brain to adjust to this aspect of strong leadership and to overcome initial impulses in lieu of the greater good for your company.

A president is a president

There are some striking similarities between being the president of an enterprise and being the president of the United States. When things are going swimmingly, the person in charge is lauded for establishing the sunny climate, and when things are floundering, the commander is denounced for the stormy weather. But you can't throw your people under the bus for poor results any more than a sitting president can finger-point at members of his cabinet during a State of the Union address. Both types of presidents need to assume the mantle they have accepted, and that mantle is called accountability.

It might just be a mental game you play with yourself — to get comfortable taking responsibility for the bad and not taking responsibility for the good — but it's a game with fair rules. It's a game that protects your players and allows them to shine at the same time. It's a game you can win, and it's a game that every good boss needs to learn to master if they want to become a great leader.

Emily Reynolds Bergh

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder at R Public Relations Firm

Emily Reynolds Bergh — vintage-shoe hoarder, cycling junkie, & lover of pink drinks — is a marketing & PR pro with 15+ years of experience under her belt. Now the founder & owner of the award-winning R Public Relations based in New York, she’s been featured in numerous publications & podcasts.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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