Empty Suits can’t Handle Blame

I’m not exactly a people person.  When I got my first middle management job, I bought several books on leadership.  I realized that I didn’t know squat about how to motivate and lead people, so I tried to get some insight into people who had successfully done so or had studied those who did.  I still don’t fancy myself that good a leader, but one thing stuck in my head.  Every book that I read insisted that an indispensable part of leadership is accountability.  A few examples (all emphasis mine).

Leadership is not a paycheck. Leadership is a calling. You have to want to lead with all the caring and energy of Ernest Shackleton conquering Antarctica or Moses parting the Red Sea. And you have to be accountable—no blame game is acceptable. The buck stops at the tip of your nose.

Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.

When his generals performed well, Lincoln gave them the credit; when they performed poorly, Lincoln took the blame. Lincoln expert Donald T. Phillips acknowledged, “Throughout the war Lincoln continued to accept public responsibility for battles lost or opportunities missed.”‘

Refusal to accept blame, pointing fingers at others, and wimpy language can help bosses keep their jobs for a while, but it usually backfires in the long run. No matter what is said, bosses are seen as responsible for what their people do.

The accepting of responsibility is part and parcel of a true leader.  It’s not, of course, the only thing that makes a good leader, but it is not an optional characteristic.
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