Successful leaders must be willing to assume responsibility for the mistakes and shortcomings of their followers. If they try to shift this responsibility, they will not remain leaders. If followers make mistakes and become incompetent, it is the leader who has failed – Napoleon Hill
[This is the tenth in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]
“He did it!” “That’s not my fault!” “If you would have only…” These are some of the most clichéd, and unfortunately popular phrases in society today. Here are a few other popular (and closely related) expressions: Shifting blame, passing the buck, dodging the bullet. They all express the same desire, that of avoiding responsibility.
Assuming responsibility is hard enough when you know you’re at fault. It’s especially hard if you believe someone else caused the problem. Yet a leader knows that responsibility is always and completely his or her own when it comes to any undertaking he or she shoulders. It’s also cliché, but a great leader embraces the phrase “the buck stops here.” How do we get past the natural ruffling of our proverbial feathers resulting from accepting responsibility for things gone wrong? How can our assuming full responsibility lead to better results for us personally and those we lead?
The Challenge of Accepting Responsibility
It starts in youth. We knock over a cookie jar trying to get what’s inside, and our mother walks in. We’re standing, cookie in hand and shards of pottery mixed with cookie crumbs strewn at our feet, and sheepishly declare, “But mom, it’s not my fault!” Thus begins a cycle of shifting blame. This doesn’t apply only to children. Adults are just as guilty. Take the case of 20-year-old David Martinez of Bethlehem, PA, accused of raping 14 and 17-year-old girls. What was his reason for committing this crime? His hormones were out of control and he couldn’t help himself.
We see a rise in groups dedicated to people with addictions, whether it is overeating, heavy drinking, sex, gambling, being a workaholic, being too messy, and the like. I’m not here commenting on whether or not these are real issues, the efficacy of support groups, or discussing the relative severity and impact of the actions here mentioned. What is significant is that labeling something an addiction potentially removes responsibility from the person. They are now defined by their addiction. It controls them. It’s the addiction’s fault; you’re not to blame. As one psychologist puts it, “Creating a world of addictive diseases may mean creating a world in which anything is excusable” (“‘It’s Not My Fault!’ – The Age of Excuses.” Awake, January 22, 1991, p. 8).
If that’s true, you’re in a really terrible situation. Why? If the addiction (or whatever it is we choose to blame) is at fault, then it is also responsible for the solution. I’ve never heard of an addiction or any other intangible stepping up to the plate and correcting itself. On the other hand, if you accept responsibility for your actions, then you also accept responsibility for the solution. You are now in control. That’s why a successful leader assumes full responsibility. It allows him or her to seize control of the outcome rather than leave it in the hands of uncontrollable and often unquantifiable sources.
Advantages to Ourselves and Others
I already mentioned one personal advantage above: You take back control for fixing the things that aren’t working well in your life. Jennifer Wilson lists six other benefits:
- You stand out as someone different. Most people try to pass the buck. When you accept full responsibility for everything you promise to deliver, people immediately know you’re unique.
- You mark yourself as “coachable.” The best mentors want to work with the willing, that is, those who can admit mistakes and accept direction. Admitting you’re at fault and seeking advice on how to improve shows everyone you’re willing to learn. You’ll attract the attention of the best and brightest in upper management and/or your industry.
- You are trusted. Taking personal responsibility gives people a good feeling about you. People see your honesty, and that helps to develop trust. Additionally, those on your team learn that you won’t throw them “under the bus,” so to speak. That develops a level of confidence in your integrity. Those qualities are the earmarks of a great leader.
- You show that you’re growing and changing. Owning your mistake is a great start. Figuring out how you can fix it allows you to improve and grow. That growth leads to positive change. Granted, you may not always know how to fix things right away. Yet knowing the power to change lies with you motivates a desire to research the matter and to seek out constructive criticism.
- You become more powerful. How can accepting responsibility make you more powerful? First, it allows you to stop expending energy in denial. Figuring out who and what to blame is tiring! It’s emotionally draining. Additionally, as I noted above, accepting responsibility gives you the power to effect changes, instead of waiting for someone else to “do their part.”
- You are followed. You’re setting the example of what’s expected in your organization when you accept responsibility. Others see what you do and, just as importantly, see that you didn’t implode. Your career is intact. They’ll learn to do the same. This leads to a team with high integrity, and a desire to not pass the buck but find solutions. That’s a great result for assuming full responsibility!
The only person you can control is yourself. Things will happen, and people will let you down. That’s okay. Since you can’t control those factors, stop worrying about them. Focus on what you can do. When you get results that are less than expected, figure out what you can do differently next time to get the right results. Playing the “blame game” may make you feel better short-term, but will not allow you to achieve great things. So stop playing that losing game, and start accepting full responsibility.
Do you accept responsibility for the results of your endeavors? If not, what do you think are some ways you can improve? (Note: You’ll find some great suggestions and a worksheet here) Leave your comments below (and don’t forget to “Like” us).
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