The Leader Owns the Problem

August 16, 2023

“What brings you to see me?” asked the church leader.

“He has an attitude problem,” replied my dad with his opening salvo.

Looking to me, the priest asked, “What’s the problem, son?”

The cruel thing that happens to the victim of emotional trauma is to have his feelings dismissed. That was why my rage grew at every encounter with adults. They all discounted my feelings.  Consequently, I answered while pointing at Dad to counter his opening shot, “He’s an asshole.”

I was seventeen. Home life was a daily battle with that fear-spitting dragon. In me it created a fighter. Too much so. Often I fought battles that I need not have. Hence my fighter’s response to the priest.

The reason we were in the priest’s office was that according to dad I had a problem.

That I, the powerless boy, was to shoulder the blame for our family culture was gaslighting me. That no adult authority figures, i.e. leaders, came to my rescue made it especially cruel.

It was an experience in adverse leadership that was burned deep into my psyche.

When it came to my dad’s blaming style of leadership, adults demurred to avoid his rage. For example, when Mom made tepid efforts to defend me from his blaming, Dad turned his rage on her: “Goddammit, my life wasn’t a cakewalk either,” he would yell.

What? His bad childhood justified hating me.

Twice in my presence – when she attempted to nurture me instead of blame – he said to her; “You’re licking Peter’s ass.” It was a grotesque manipulation that worked. With fear and regret, she stopped nurturing me. A child needs a mother’s nurturing. Missing that was deeply traumatizing to her and me.

It was damage wrought by cruel leadership. I never forgot that lesson.



As a nation perpetually at war, Israel performs extensive research regarding emotional trauma. Particularly PTSD. They have an existential need for solutions and treatment. Among their conclusions is that the primary method to heal an emotionally traumatized brain is to get validation from an authority figure of mutual love and respect.

Thirty-two years after sitting in that priest’s office I was the CEO of my engineering firm. We had recently sold controlling interest to a private equity group. Private equity brought new accounting personnel and procedures.

Our new controller coerced an accounting clerk into signing a memo in which she admitted culpability for an error. It was indeed her error, but it was an honest mistake born of good faith intentions. She did not deserve to be treated like a criminal defendant.

Instead of coercing her to accept culpability, an honorable leader would have owned the problem. He could have convened a lessons learned session to prevent the error in the future. Or maybe he would have improved the process to mitigate that specific error for future clerks. Either solution would have been a win-win for him, her, future clerks and our new bosses. And of supreme importance to our culture, win-win solutions would have left all parties with bonded hearts.

Instead that controller did not own the problem. He set up a coercive relationship in which his subordinate shouldered the blame. I had lived that experience as a child. I would not allow it at Tower Engineering Professionals.

I took ownership of the problem.

The controller’s boss was the company’s CFO. I explained to the CFO that if he allowed the blaming to stand, it would corrode the culture of his accounting division. That controller’s subordinates would channel their emotions toward contempt instead of production. The CFO was their authority figure and their leader. He needed to earn their trust by owning the problem.

I suggested that he rip the memo in half. Then give the torn pages to the clerk.

To his honor, the CFO followed my suggestion.

That leader owned it.

What do you think of this blog post? And what do you think of my website? I’m happy to hear from anyone, especially tower hands. Anyone who climbs towers—in my book—deserves a priority response!

If you’re not a tower hand write:

If you’re a tower hand: