Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Why Founders & CEO’s Should “Burn Their Boats”

Many people know the story of Alexander the Great “burning the boats” during the invasion of Persia (or maybe you attribute it to Cortés during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Aeneas in Italy, or the Bounty Mutineers on Pitcairn Island). They’re all the same story: in each case, the leader took a bold decision to burn the boats, committing their troops to a single path forward and taking away the option of retreat. Thankfully in business, most of our decisions are not bound to “victory or death!” but as leaders, there is a big lesson in accountability we can learn from this.

Strategy or tactics? Good leadership requires both.

Coming up with an invasion plan is all paperwork, but putting it into practice when the arrows are flying is the tricky part! Creating a business strategy is not hard. There are tools, methodologies, and companies to help you do that. The tough part is the tactical implementation when delivering the results your strategy demands. There is a multitude of reasons why delivery is hard, but one of the most common is a lack of leadership accountability. Although a company may profess to have a path forward, they still need a commitment from leaders that they are truly going to follow that path. So how would “burning the boats” ensure accountability in a business context?

Wait, does this mean no turning back?

No, it’s not about burning the company’s boats and committing to a single path forward – we still need to maintain a degree of flexibility in our strategy so we can react to changing market conditions. When I talk about burning the boats, I mean on a personal leadership level. The key is in taking away failure as an option for you – the leader. As a leader in the company, you are accountable for specific company results, but you will also own individual targets or goals. What are you going to do? By when are you committing to do it? What are your measures of success? Once you can answer those questions, announce them to the company. Burn your own boats!

Does this mean cutting off my escape route?

Publicly declaring your own intentions and responsibilities gives you no option but to deliver on them. Your own people will be holding you to account. Bold? Yes. But by announcing and then delivering, you set the tone for others. Company culture starts at the top, and if you want a culture of accountability (you do, BTW), then it starts with you. No excuses.

ViTL Solutions, through its ViTL Growth offering, works with scale-up and other fast-growth companies to articulate their strategy and help their leaders successfully deliver them. Our Accountability Partnership Model differentiates us – not only will we help you determine your strategy, but we can help you with the tactical work as well. Most importantly, we will help you light the match that burns your boats.

Subscribe to our Blog

Additional Blogs