Rule #6: When left in charge, take charge

Have you ever wondered how some leaders are so leveraged by their top people? How do they have leaders and teams that step up, make, and then execute the right decisions on their own?

Early in my career I had the opportunity to work for mentors who believed in preparing, empowering, and holding their leaders accountable. It was awesome. It was scary. This was a two-edged sword.

My first leadership roles were tough sledding! Only the most talented and driven people could lead, survive, much less thrive in that type of fast paced, sometimes disorganized, and in most cases, decentralized business model. It was a bit of sink or swim, but these mentors knew exactly the type of person who would thrive in their culture, in the role they well orchestrated, and in the structure they created. Some of the best practices I ever learned were early in my career. What a blessing.

I will never forget when Mark Roth, who was a senior executive of USA Mobile, took some of his valuable and carefully allocated time to train me to be a manager. I was hired for the start-up efforts to grow a resounding Midwest brand from Knoxville Tennessee southward into the southeast USA. Mark Roth gave me the most concentrated, tangible, and real world guidance of anyone in my career, ever. It was only two weeks of time shadowing him, followed by coaching from afar, but it was intense. It shaped me.

My first day in Ohio, Mark did a shoe shine check for his entire team. Mark lined up dozens of his team, and he sent quite a few home to shine their shoes. He was right, though. The brand had standards. I was inspired (and also scared.) That was one of the most badass things I had ever seen. The priority was best practice. We were about to copy and paste the DNA of the brand, and Mark wanted to make sure best practice was being pasted in new markets. Luckily I shined my shoes the night before. I read Dress for Success in 1987. So I shine my shoes.

Luckily I shined my shoes the night before. I read Dress for Success in 1987. So I shine my shoes.

Another powerful best practice Mark taught me was that you inspect what you expect, and it should get done. Did I mention that Mark served in the Army, had already earned his MBA, and played professional hockey? Honestly, I was not as scared of Mark as I was impressed. I wanted to learn as much as I could. He had the formula.

The next superpower Mark shared with me transformed a buzz word of the 1990s known as empowerment from an intangible idea into a sword. Mark told me, “Blackwell. Always remember rule #6: When left in charge, take charge! That was powerful stuff for me. So being a young whipper snapper, I asked Mark, “You mean like for real? I am in charge?” Mark said, “Yes. Do not screw it up. You are in charge.”

The two important action words in rule # 6 are Left, and Take.

  • Left implies active empowerment, being selected and being held accountable for the result.
  • Take implies grabbing the baton, taking the accountability, and commanding the team to get the results.I was excited and terrified. This is exactly how we want our properly hired and placed leaders to feel! In over their head, well placed, supported, empowered and accountable.

I was sent to a far away hill, and I was to take it. I was in charge. We had to step up. We had to build the company in that image. When left in charge, we took charge. Those of us leading at USA Mobile had a natural tendency to overachieve. We were not impressed with mediocrity. We started doing our job at 100%.

I was excited and terrified. This is exactly how we want our properly hired and placed leaders to feel! In over their head, well placed, supported, empowered and accountable.

What if you build your culture around empowering and supporting folks to delegate effectively and leave leaders in charge?  What if leaders take charge? What if this becomes inherent in your culture top down? Why not surpass expectations? How wonderful will customers feel? How positive will leaders feel about each other? How good does it feel to be on an assembly line when the previous department nails their deliverable and you get perfection in your inbox? For more on championship goal setting

One final point. Being coach-able is a very powerful thing. When Mark and the senior leaders of USA Mobile told me, “Here is how we do it. You should do this, this, and that…” I actually followed it to the letter. I taught my team, “When left in charge, take charge.” And I meant it. We lived it. My managers and leaders embodied it and pushed it down to their leaders. We took charge! It worked. We saw goals as starting points to exceed. It has worked for me for almost two decades. We duplicated a great brand into the southeastern USA. I was good for it. It was a solid coach and a solid player

What a blessing good mentors and leaders are for their teams. Thank you Mark Roth. You made me better because you knew how and you cared enough to coach. Cheers!


  1. Mel, Mark Roth here, thank you for the kind words, I wasn’t a Navy Seal, I was in the Army and I don’t want that to detract from your outstanding points. You were easy to mentor because you were motivated, you listened and you took action. To me, implementation is key, it is easy to strategic plan, but to implement the plan, you need good players, like you Mel. I enjoy reading your blog, keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you Mark. You made a huge difference in my life. I learned a lot about being a leader and coach. Even SPIN selling. You really prepared me for success. I will clarify my point on the Army.

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