By Chuck Violand

Recently, Violand Executive Summit instructor Jim Bagnola stopped by our office to visit. While there, he relayed a story told to him by his friend, a retired Navy lieutenant commander and F-15 fighter pilot.

The rule

The incident began with the pilots being given orders to scramble their jets off the flight deck of the aircraft carrier. The rule for the exercise gave pilots only two tries to get the canopy to latch and lock before takeoff. If the canopy didn’t lock by the second try, then pilots were not allowed to take off and were towed over to the side.

The lieutenant commander’s canopy failed to lock after two attempts, so he was towed to the side. Obviously upset, he investigated and discovered that a screwdriver, misplaced by the aircraft mechanic, had been left in the way.

The mechanic was invited to join the lieutenant commander in his office below deck. Fearing the worst, the mechanic was surprised when the pilot thanked him for the valuable lesson he’d been taught that day. He called it his “50% Rule,” which said we all own at least 50% of our conflicts, mistakes, and shortcomings. In this case, the pilot stated that, while the misplaced screwdriver was the mechanic’s 50% of the problem, the pilot should have left himself enough time to make sure his canopy would lock before attempting to take off.

Taking ownership

A recent conversation with a business owner caused me to think about the lieutenant commander’s 50% Rule. The owner I was talking with was upset because he and his top employee had serious disagreements and weren’t getting along. I didn’t find this particularly unusual. It’s common for people in leadership roles who have strong personalities to occasionally clash. In my opinion, this is one of the ways to know we have the right people in leadership roles.

What I did find unusual was the fact that the owner wasn’t accepting any responsibility for the disagreements or the problems.

Sometimes it seems like there is an inverse relationship between being a business owner and taking ownership of the business’ problems. Too often we default to finger pointing, blaming, and finding scapegoats when things aren’t going smoothly. While nobody is expected to fall on their sword every time something goes wrong, imagine how much better things would be if we all accepted at least 50% ownership for the causes of our problems.

By the end of our conversation it became clear the business owner had some legitimate beefs about the performance of his employee. And in my follow-up conversation with the employee, it was clear that he had some legitimate beefs about the owner. But until both the owner and employee could accept responsibility for their part in the disagreements, the relationship would continue to head downhill and so would the performance of the business. Rather than impacting just their two lives, they were also impacting the lives of everyone else who works for the company.

It takes a special kind of humility for a highly trained Navy officer, who’s launching and landing a $100 million aircraft, to own 50% of a mistake that could have been avoided. Maybe it’s an important lesson for those of us in business to learn.


Chuck Violand is the founder and principal of Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Through VMA, he works with business owners and companies to develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit www.violand.com or call 800-360-3513.