Have you ever said something in a meeting and immediately regretted it?

Sitting in a quarterly review with my CEO, I was beyond confident. I couldn’t wait to brag about all the positive things going on in my business.

This CEO was notoriously tough in meetings.

This review was our regular chance to update him on our business, with about 20 other managers in the room and five with speaking roles.

He was bright and could drill into any area of your business.

He had a way of challenging your thinking. He helped you see a looming crisis or a different approach to a process that wasn’t working.

There was only one rule:

Don’t Make Excuses.

He hated them. I mean, he hated excuses. I saw him humble many managers who refused to take responsibility.

I knew better.

I prepared for days. I wanted to make sure not to leave any of my amazing accomplishments out.

  • Record profit margin.
  • Record efficiencies.
  • Record customer service.
  • Record close rate.

The meeting starts, and I’m up first. I launch into my pitch, touting the incredible work that my team was doing. The fact that this team had a fantastic leader was left out, but it was heavily implied.

Sensing my head inflating to absurd levels, he cut me off and went straight to page 4 of the packet.

“What is going on with our lead rate?”

Lead rate?

Why the hell is he asking me about a secondary metric? Didn’t he see my profit margins? Isn’t that net profit number popping off the page?

Lead Rate?

I was like Allen Iverson getting asked about practice.

“We’re talking about lead rate? Not profit? Not sales? Lead rate?”

Scrambling to catch up, I notice he picked the only number in the packet heading in the wrong direction.

Of course, he did.

It was declining and had been for three straight quarters.

Frustrated that he would besmirch me and my self-coronation by bringing up this blemish, I took the bait and broke the cardinal rule.

“I think the market has changed a bit on us. We’re seeing more leads coming from realtors and not as much online.”

I was making it up as I went. I had no idea. I didn’t prepare at all for that small line item, given how well everything else was going.

He smirked, sensing the fresh smell of bullshit in the air.

I was screwed, and I knew it.

“Really? Dan, do we have the numbers on realtor leads?”

He’s talking to his finance manager who has a much bigger packet in front of him than I do.

“Yes. It looks like our realtor business has been going down.”

“Huh. Do you have different data than we do, Ian?”

Objection! He is leading the witness, your honor!

“Glenn, it looks like your lead rate has been going up. Having any trouble with realtors up there in Pittsburgh?”

He is talking to my peer, another VP who is excelling in the one area where I am not.

“No, realtors are about the same. Lead rate has been steady as well.”

He then went around the room to every other VP and asked the same question. They all answered the same way.

I was shrinking in front of everybody’s eyes, trying to hide in plain sight.

Winding back from a dumb comment like that is like trying to put toothpaste back in a bottle. It’s just not happening.

I put an end to the misery after he deliberately made his point.

“I haven’t been focused on this enough. I am now. I will dig into what is happening, and you will see this change direction by the next time we talk.”

He smiled and offered some advice.

“You know, it would have been easier on all of us if you would have led with that.”

He did me a favor that day. His job is to keep his managers focused. He sensed my hubris and didn’t want me to fall asleep at the wheel.

Lead rate happened to be an indicator of future business. When I dug in, we did have some issues that needed correcting.

My job as manager was to own the business.

If I wanted the praise that came with knocking it out of the park, I needed to own the failures just the same.

You can’t have one or the other.

If you want to be recognized as a leader and grow in your career, you have to be accountable. Within your realm of control, own everything.

When you’re screwing up, own it and avoid dumb excuses, unlike this knucklehead.