Who is Responsible for This?

Who is Responsible for This?

Welcome to our next edition of Leadership Lexicon blogs where I offer definitions of “leadership,” facilitating better communication among us on this important topic. Today we will discuss the need for the sustained leader to be responsible. See earlier posts on Relationships and being Approachable.

Responsibility Defined

In Sustained Leadership WBS the following definition is offered:

WBS Dictionary: Being responsible means that you can manage the affairs of a normally adjusted member of society. You know when to call 911 and when it would be inappropriate. You can be trusted with money, children, maintaining a home, and other adult responsibilities. As simple as this sounds, it is more than can be expected from some people. A leader must, of course, exceed these minimal levels of responsibility. A leader must be able to take charge of a situation. They must have confidence in the actions they take and the maturity to accept the consequences of those actions. When the leader makes a mistake, they know how to accept the responsibility personally and to make amends, including an appropriate apology (4.2.15), when necessary. Even when the primary fault might lie with an employee or subordinate, a leader accepts the responsibility from the injured third party. A responsible person also keeps their word. This suggests that you should be very cautious when giving your word. If you have given a commitment to someone then you will move heaven and earth to make sure that commitment is met. If there are genuine intervening circumstances, then you give the other party as much notice as possible. You do not simply let the date pass. People are counting on you. Showing a lack of responsibility also shows a lack of credibility, honesty, and loyalty. A lack of responsibility destroys trust. Leaders must accept responsibility.

As this definition reflects, the sustained leader will often rely on others, but in the final analysis the only person that is responsible for any consequences, results, or lack of results by the team is – the leader.

News Stories Show Lack of Leadership

In a variety of interviews I have posited that if you take any current news story, at its root the event is a failure in leadership. That is not typically how the news story is presented and many people will attempt to lay the blame at the feet of another. Certainly the unfortunate consequences could not be their fault? This is like the bank robber who, when caught, “chooses” not to go to jail. Actions have consequences, and if you are going to take the action, you must also deal with the consequences.

The sustained leader will openly acknowledge their responsibility and accept the consequences of their actions. They will own it whether it was directly their fault or not. They will not blame another.

Developing Good Judgment

One aspect of being responsible is to combine good judgement with situational awareness and a bias for action. Being able to perceive a situation, assess its importance, and then take definitive action in response to the situation is a key indicator of a sustained leader. Accepting the consequences of either action or inaction is required.

How do you gain good judgment? One way, obviously, is by exercising bad judgment. While experience is often the best teacher, you can’t live long enough to make every possible mistake (although some people seem to be trying.) Education and training can fill in the gaps until your judgment develops. It is also very useful to read biographies and learn from the mistakes of others.

A sustained leader will also move mountains to keep their word. Once given, the sustained leader will stand by their word. This requires great discretion and discernment in giving your word in the first place.

There are some segments of society where a handshake is still better than a written contract. The parties trust each other and know each other to be responsible people who will honor their commitments. One indicator of how far we have traveled away from sustained leadership is the fact that rather than being a common occurrence, such agreements are clearly the exception today. No one trusts anyone else these days, it seems, and lawyers make a good living off of this distrust. It is a burden, a tax if you will, that we have imposed on ourselves due to our lack of sustained leadership.

It’s Your Decision

People who do not accept responsibility demonstrate weak character. If you can’t be trusted, people will hesitate to engage with you and you are disqualifying yourself from a leadership role. You might be able to slide through life without such engagement, but I assure you it is a life barely worth living. It lacks significance, meaning, and legacy. It is a choice you can make. Just keep in mind that a little bit of responsibility will significantly alter your life trajectory in a very positive way. Think about that the next time you give your word, or happen upon a situation that requires some immediate action, or choose to take an action that results in unfortunate outcomes. Will you hold yourself responsible?


This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section Responsible. Order your copy here

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With an extensive career in government contracting, Tom has found many examples, both good and bad, of leadership. These posts are based on his latest book, Sustained Leadership WBS, published by Morgan James. Tom is available to speak to your team on the importance of developing sustained leaders.


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