Posted on 10 June 2010
In the early years of Sunday school, I learned about the epitome of a role model for accepting responsibility: Jesus. He could have blamed everyone, including his Father, for tasking him with being sacrificed for sins when he was in fact sinless. As a teenager and young adult, when I tried to weasel out of accountability for a failure or mistake my father would tell me, “No one is a failure until they blame somebody else.” And there was no way I wanted to be a failure! Fast-forward to my years as a cadet at the Air Force Academy. When asked a question we could give one of five answers: “Yes, sir; No, sir; Sir, I do not know; Sir, I will find out; and No excuse sir!” Did you hear that? “No excuse, sir!!”
I know what they say about politics. My father also used to say that the meaning of the word politics stems from the Greek word “poli”, which means many, and “tics”, which means bloodsuckers. The only issue is that one of the politicians occupies the role of Commander in Chief! So like it or not, and all sarcasm aside, they have got to emulate the sense of responsibility instilled in those they direct. And I’m not trying to be partisan here, it doesn’t matter what flavor you are, it is about the position, not your party. I once heard it asked, “If you blame others for your failures, do you credit them with your successes?”
There’s a story I was told many years ago and have never forgotten. A man is selected for a position and goes in to the office of the individual he’s replacing. The incumbent gives him the following advice: “I’ve written two letters which I’ve placed in the top desk drawer. After the first six months, when people are upset over how things are going, open the desk drawer, take out the first letter, read it and do what it says. After the second six months, when folks are even angrier over how things are going, open the desk drawer and take out the second letter read it and do what it says.”
Six months into his job, people got angry. The newcomer went to the desk drawer and opened the first letter. It said, “Blame everything on your predecessor.” The new leader did just this and it seemed to appease the crowds. Six months later, however, the new leader found himself again faced with even greater anger and hostility. He went to the desk drawer and opened up the second letter. It said, “Sit down and write two letters.”
You may use the “I inherited a big load of crap” excuse once, although I would highly recommend you never, ever use this as a leader, even if it’s true. It only weakens your reputation. People know when stuff is messed up. That’s why you got the job!! To fix it!! Second, people crave decisive and accountable leaders. Blaming is embarrassing. I once left a position because, unbeknownst to me, there was unprofessional behavior on the part of one of my managers. When this came to light, did I tell corporate that I didn’t know about it and therefore couldn’t be held accountable? No way!! I was angry at myself that I didn’t know about it, because it was my job to hire great folks at every level to ensure managers were managing properly.
So I’ll sum it all up in a nice little package: If you take the position, the title, the power, the prestige, and the salary then you have to take full responsibility for the position! And that means that everything, to include things that were in motion before you got into the seat, and things you didn’t even know were and are going on, are yours and yours alone.