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In 5 words, Warren Buffett just learned a remarkable lesson in holding yourself accountable

In the investment world, Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting is a special event. For most companies, the annual meeting is mainly a formality, with a small number of shareholders present and voting on proposals. Most shareholders are not present, and unless there is a particularly thorny proposal, nothing exciting is said or done.

Apple, for example, doesn’t even hold an in-person meeting. If you are a shareholder and want to attend, you must do so online. The same goes for Google’s annual meeting. In contrast, Berkshire Hathaway’s meeting took place Saturday at the CHI Health Center Arena, which seats just under 20,000 people. Shareholders lined up overnight to participate in the event.

The reason all these people come to what Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett affectionately calls “the Woodstock of capitalism” is to hear his opinions on the company’s investments, along with his general thoughts on business and what’s happening in the world. After all, he is the ‘Oracle of Omaha’. What is an oracle without an audience?

One of the things that stood out most during this year’s daylong question-and-answer session was Buffet’s revelation that he had sold the entire stake he acquired in Paramount starting in 2022.

Berkshire Hathaway was the largest non-voting shareholder in the entertainment company when it acquired a $2.6 billion stake. It later added more shares, but Paramount has struggled over the past two years and its shares are now worth less than half since Buffett first got involved. In February, the company announced that it was selling its stake at a loss.

On Saturday, Buffett explained the decision to leave Paramount. “We sold everything and we lost quite a bit of money, and that happens in this industry,” Buffett said. “I was 100 percent responsible.”

With just five words, Buffett taught everyone a lesson far more valuable than picking stocks. Instead, he learned a lesson about holding yourself accountable for the decisions you make. Of all the things you can learn about how Buffet thinks, perhaps the most revealing is the way he views mistakes.

“I was 100 percent responsible for the Paramount decision,” Buffett said. One reason he probably felt the need to clarify was that there had been speculation that his deputies had been responsible, but Buffet wanted people to know that he was the only person to blame.

That’s not normal by the way. CEOs in particular – and leaders in general – tend to be very quick to take credit, but slow to take responsibility. It’s easy to take credit when everything goes well, but no one wants to take the blame when it doesn’t.

Of course, Buffett has spent decades earning credibility and trust. The people who trust him with their money do so because he has a track record. Sure, some bets don’t work, but no one is calling for Buffet to be fired if one of those bets costs the company a billion dollars. It’s a lot easier to take the blame when you know you can absorb it.

“I think I’m smarter now than I was a few years ago,” Buffett said. “I also think I’m poorer for acquiring the knowledge the way I did. I want to be very clear that a) we lost money on Paramount, and b) I did it all by myself, folks.”

I think there are two takeaways here. First, it’s refreshing to hear a leader holding themselves accountable for their decisions. Of course, Buffett is not your typical leader, but I think anyone who leads a team can learn from his example. It takes a strong leader to say, “Hey, I did that, and I was wrong. Here’s what I learned, but if you want to point the finger at someone, point it at me.”

Second, every leader makes mistakes. Even Buffett, who is widely considered the best at choosing the right companies to invest in, doesn’t always get it right. That is not the expectation, by the way. The expectation is that you are responsible for the way you lead, whether you do it right or wrong.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.