Be your own tyrant: The journey to extreme ownership | Inquirer Business

Be your own tyrant: The journey to extreme ownership

/ 02:04 AM October 30, 2023



An Asian client of ours complained that new product launches were delayed. He was the founder and CEO of a tech company, very successful. But he was still far away from his full potential. I told him, “The deadline your CTO (chief technology officer) gave you is bogus. They can do that in half the time.” “Do you think so?” he asked, and I could see on his face that he was afraid of the personal conflict with the CTO. “Sure,” I said. “Call him right now, and tell him you need this done in half the time.” And so he did. And, oh wonder, they delivered in half the time, which gave his company a strong edge over his competitors.

Another client of ours, let us call him Pierre, is the CEO of a very wealthy multigenerational Swiss family business conglomerate and the owner’s son. While my team was busy making the family conglomerate more profitable, Pierre’s brother approached me. He said, “Tom, we would like you to coach Pierre to hold himself more accountable because so much in the business still depends on his performance and leadership.”


Lead yourself before you can lead others

The truth was that Pierre tried to hold everybody else around him accountable but did not hold himself to the same standards. Golf trips and extended vacations became more important than reaching the professional targets he had set for himself. Is it a wonder that the people around him slacked off? Of course not.


What does “extreme ownership” mean? As a business leader, you need, first of all, to lead yourself before you can lead others. This means: how do you discipline and coach yourself to deliver the best business outcomes?

It is about taking extreme ownership of outcomes— the outcomes you commit to deliver for yourself, for others and your business. All great business leaders have mastered this skill. If you do not, you will always fall far short of your true potential.

You snooze, you lose

If you want to master one character trait, and one trait only, that will propel you to your greatest potential, it is the one of ruthless self-discipline. Extreme ownership of your outcomes starts the moment you wake up. Do you hit the snooze button and go back to bed, or do you get up and execute your schedule as planned?

Another client of ours, a CEO/founder of a US-based award-winning tech company, said, “Tom, the reason I got you and your team on board is because I saw you lecture and interact with some of the wealthiest business owners from Asia, and you do not take BS from anybody.”

“While that is true, “I answered, “most of all, I do not take any BS from myself.”

What does that mean? John D. Rockefeller, who has been termed the wealthiest American of all time and the richest person in modern history, put it best. His maxim was: “I would rather be my own tyrant than have someone else tyrannize me.” Being your own tyrant means that you execute diligently on your plans and hold yourself more accountable to deliver results than anyone else.


Be your own tyrant

Karl Lagerfeld, the German fashion designer, created an $800-million fortune until he died, a remarkable accomplishment even though he had already been born into a family of means. Karl took a similar approach as Rockefeller and often said that he gave himself “orders” and trained himself to carry them out, no matter what.

An American real estate tycoon also put it nicely, “I work for the ‘me’ of the future, not for the person I am now. That ‘future me’ gives me orders, and I carry them out.” If you take a similar approach, the more freedom you will have, and the more you can trust yourself to reach your goals. This will give you peace of mind and naturally serve as an inspiration for others around you to do the same.

Many business owners that my team and I advise complain about a lack of execution in their businesses but fail to meet standards themselves. By doing that, the CEO or business owner signals his employees that it is okay to slack off.

The magic of pain

You will always have pain. You get to choose if you want to have it on the front end or the back end. Front end: the pain of preparation. Back end: the pain of failure.

You will always pay a price. You either pay the price of discipline or the price of regret! I would much rather pay the price of discipline.

Take this article, for example. I have an intense schedule flying to clients worldwide, traveling constantly, and every 30 minutes of my day are planned out meticulously. Yet I still find time to deliver this article—and others—every single week, always following a deadline. Sometimes, I sat in a hotel lobby, tired beyond belief, still hammering out the words; or on a plane, jet-lagged; or on vacation with my family. However, I have always met my self-imposed deadlines to deliver at least one article of writing per week: book writing, article writing, whatever is required.

Discipline hack

The more you grow up in a protected, comfortable, wealthy environment, the more discipline and extreme ownership can be challenging for you.

If this is the case, start small. Recent findings in biochemistry and neurology clearly show that if you can discipline yourself in one area, you can do it in others.

What does that mean in practice? Choose one seemingly unimportant thing you can discipline yourself in that is very uncomfortable for you, and then start to apply this discipline to other areas of your life. For example, if you hate cold showers, take a cold shower after you get up.

Examples from famous CEOs and business owners

Most of the world’s most prominent business leaders’ discipline and willingness to sacrifice have been pivotal in overcoming their obstacles and achieving their business outcomes. Here are a few examples.

During the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates often worked night and day. He also used to personally review and debug every line of Microsoft code in the initial days.

Elon Musk is deeply involved in the details of his businesses, from the engineering challenges at SpaceX to the design intricacies at Tesla.

He once stated that he used to sleep on the factory floor to save time and be more productive. But there was another reason: this was a crucial time in Tesla’s history, and the company was at a crossroads. By sleeping on the factory floor for all workers to see, he boosted morale and showed that he was all-in—so they would be, too.

Around the age of six, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, was on a car journey with his mother, Eve, to visit his grandmother. About four miles away from their destination, Richard started acting up in the backseat of the car. In response to that behavior, his mother stopped the car, pushed him out and told him to find his way to his grandmother’s house on his own​​.

Branson later mentioned he grew grateful for the experience as it symbolized the way his mother raised him—to always control his emotions and rely on himself to fulfill his needs.

What will you do to take extreme ownership of your outcomes? INQ

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Tom Oliver, a “global management guru” (Bloomberg), is the chair of The Tom Oliver Group, the trusted advisor and counselor to many of the world’s most influential family businesses, medium-sized enterprises, market leaders and global conglomerates. For more information and inquiries: or email [email protected].

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