10 Ways to Crush Leadership’s Biggest Challenge
The hardest part of leadership is taking responsibility.
You-are-to-blaming-leaders are common. I-am-responsible-leaders are rare.
Magnificent leaders rise up, square their shoulders, and bear the responsibility of their decisions and behaviors.
Maxwell said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” Harry Truman added a mouth full when he said, “The buck stops here.”
When it counts:
Responsibility matters when it hurts.
Responsibility counts when others screw up. Responsibility is irrelevant when things go well.
The surest way to demotivate your team is to blame them for failures and take credit for successes.
Anger is a subtle symptom of not taking responsibility. Anger at others is blaming; it shifts responsibility from you to them.
Leaders who take responsibility:
- Believe in themselves and others.
- Seek solutions not scape-goats.
- Create safe environments where people learn from failure.
- Build strong teams. Blaming-leaders squash the passion and innovative spirit of others. On the other hand, taking responsibility demands you build a trustworthy, competent team.
- Enable and encourage others to act with confidence and courage. Engage, engage, engage.
- Delegate clearly while including accountability.
- Get their hands dirty when necessary while avoiding “leadership by pronouncement.”
- Provide training and resources. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
- Constantly evaluate progress and improve processes.
- Hire slowly and fire quickly.
Taking responsibility may turn you into a micro-manager. Learn to trust competent people.
A point of clarity:
Everyone is a leader because leadership is influence and everyone has influence. Everyone is not, however, an effective leader because effective leaders take responsibility.
Taking responsibility propels you down the path to maximum results and enhanced influence.
Peter Drucker insightfully said, “Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.”
How do you express leadership-responsibility on a daily basis?
What suggestions do you have for leaders learning to take responsibility?
Since I am responsible for developing and supervising my team, even when they fail to perform it is my responsibility. Short of outride insubordination, there isn’t a way to blame a team-member; anything that happens on my watch is my responsibility. When things need to be talked out, I often start with, “I must not have communicated clearly.” and then delve for that point where his/her understanding began to deviate from my intent.
This topic brings up a related one, which is that you can delegate the work but you can’t delegate the responsibility. If you didn’t check as work got started or while it was in progress, then shame on you that it was completed wrong. Failure to check is definitely a leader lapse.
Bottom line: the ability to say “My bad” is critical in keeping the trust and confidence of your team.
Your experience shines through on this challenging topic. Thanks for adding value.
“The buck stops here” can cause weariness. Thanks for encouraging.
Great article Dan!
I was working with a manager about taking responsibility. She came to me expressing frustration about working with other members of the team in meetings. She felt like all of them were “ganging up” on her and she was deeply frustrated. I recognized that most team dynamics are a two way street, meaning that there are probably things that all parties need to claim responsibiity for. I started with her, since she was the ranking leader. I asked her to reflect on why they might be engaging in such behavior (develop empathy)? Through a rather lengthy conversation (patience and listening), we were able to find the three or four points of her behavior that were causing them to gang up. She discovered in her own mind that she was cutting people off when they were trying to make their points in meetings, that when they were slow in understanding her, she would escalate her emotions and cause a reaction with the team. We discussed the importance of patience and effective listening, when working with others. We talked about how to develop these strategies and incorporate them into meetings.
Next, I visited the “gang.” These were lower ranking people, who I visited with individually to get their perspective. Believe it or not, they had the same view of the problem, albeit from the other side of the table. I asked them (individually) how they felt about the meting. Each expressed in their own way how they were frustrated by the leader’s abrupt behavior. Many recognized on their own, by virtue of the senior leader showing up, that they have a few things to be responsible for as well. I helped them develop more assertive communications strategies for dealing with rude behavior from higher ups.
This whole exercise was about helping my people maintain their own relationships with each other by being responsible for their behavior. This was not about me becoming a judge and dealing out punishments.
You paid the cost for success up front by taking time to be responsible.
Sometimes we think we don’t have time. But it’s obvious we don’t have time not to take time.
Your story instructs us all.
Had to chuckle a bit James about the ‘rankled ranking’ folks. Over time people may see that those who ‘out-rank’ others, may actually reverse rolls. (those you meet on the way up, you meet on the way down) If you can nurture respect (and trust) then those transitions go more smoothly.
“Excelente” Excellent !!!
Thank you thank you … 😉
Great post Dan. Like you said everyone is a leader since everyone has influence but it takes more than influence to be a true leader and certainly owning responsibility is key. Too often leaders are inclined to plead ignorance when something goes wrong and not be culpable. I think Greg hit the nail on the head when he states that “ineffective communication” is on the shoulder of the leader. I think being a responsible leader has a price and some folks cannot “afford” it. They are reluctant to leave their ego home, reluctant to raise their hand when accountability calls, and stand in front of their team regardless of the consequences. Leadership engagement is continuous and never ends starting from the beginning of the project to its conclusion. Having deep knowledge of your team and its dynamics will make your responsibility not only credible but transparent and will make the fear of failure more tolerable for everyone. Successful responsibility is a core competency of leadership.
This morning I was thinking about the price of leadership.
You hit me between the eyes with, “reluctant to leave their ego home.” You’ve mentioned that concept before and it sure applies here. In my own world, I think ego, arrogance, pride or whatever you want to call it is a clear problem. (I know some don’t like the term problem – they prefer challenge)
You took me to school today!
Al is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. You can read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/al-diaz
‘Opportunities’ have a price too if not held in check. 😉
I enjoyed the post and the comments. I’m coming at leadership from a different perspective – shared leadership in self-organizing teams. Folks on a team like the ones we work with treat their boss as a customer. If their customer is doing something dumb that will get in the way of great results for everyone, the team raises it from a position of loyal advisor with the boss’s best interests at heart. We like to say, “If you see it, you own it.” If you know there’s something wrong, you’re the best person to do something about it. It saves the months and years of waiting for the boss to figure out there’s something wrong and get help.
But the cool connection to this post is, if you assume leadership can arise anywhere if it’s given a chance (as I do), then the responsibility lesson applies too. I have seen people lead, take responsibility and make great things happen who don’t have organizational power but end up with followers who support their ideas. Willingness to take responsibility is attractive in anyone.
Your comment takes these ideas to a new and exciting level. The thing that takes us from wishing we were effective leaders to actually leading is taking responsibility.
I’m thankful you shared your insights and look forward to future comments.
“If you see it, you own it”–awesome Vickie…fits many excellent models. If you see it, you probably know best how to fix it.
Great post and I’m not surprisingly in agreement. You might enjoy this light-hearted yet serious to do list for the courageous (and responsible) leader http://brillianceinc.com/how-to-tell-if-you-work-in-a-fear-ridden-environment/
All my best, Denise
Good afternoon Denise,
Thanks for sharing a link to extend the conversation.
Liked your suggestion of trusting competent people and refrain of becoming ‘a micro manager’. Also, the 10-point reference checks are essential to drive leaders into the position of influence with the desired success.
Leaders have to set their own example for the followers to get inspired and maintain the pace with which effective leaders surpass their own set goals with the help of in-built team. Very few people understand and support the leader’s strategy of putting constant pressure to excel with innovative means. Those who do are the most likely successor to take leadership position once the effective leaders move up in the ladder.
Dear Dr. Asher,
I was careful to add the modifier “competent” to trust people. There is something to be said for trusting people. However, leaders better trust competent people when results are on the line.
Best to you,
Dr. Asher is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/dr-asher
This post really hit the spot with me today! As a young leader, it is very important for me to find the right “balance” in my leadership role. Balance is what allows accountability and responsibility from the leader as well as the employee. Performance can decrease when the balance of responsibility is thrown off.
You have my best wishes on your leadership journey.
A few leaders relish taking responsibility. I find many don’t. I believe it’s at the heart of great leadership.
Thanks for joining the conversation,
This post really holds some fundamental truths, Dan. I think, regardless of supervisory/reporting relationships, each of us has a responsibility to demonstrate for those around us the quality of taking responsibility for each choice we make
I am reading “The Smartest Guys in the Room” right now (about the rise and eventual fall of Enron) and there wasn’t one disastrous decision that brought the organization down – it was a series of small failures to be responsible and take the ethical long view that led to a spiral that reached around the globe and ruined lives. One of the executives says, near the end of the book (which is when everything is falling apart), “I am not having fun anymore.” When things are not going well, leaders frequently have to go without personal enjoyment for the sake of the greater good.
Great post, Dan. What an accurate picture!
Ditto Greg’s post at the start of this thread. Well done, Greg.
Learning to take responsibility is realizing the buck stops right here – and that you need a team of capable people to help make things happen. If you can’t take responsibility, you won’t be able to cultivate that ability in the people you lead – and soon you’ll be leading no one nowhere.
You want to lead, you take responsibility. More responsibility, higher leadership. As one multimillionaire said ‘Your problems just get bigger as you lead more. Look forward to solving big problems, if you want a big payoff’.
All the best,
I’m working on a piece on Inspiring Commitment, and this is definitely one of the things that leaders who inspire commitment do.
You may find yourself footnoted, if you don’t mind.
no problem… enjoy!
A leader is truly tested in tough times when the leader and the team is overwhelmed. If you can make sound decision at that time and keep peace in the team to let them make sound decision then you are an effective leader. Blaming team is worst mistake a leader can make.