Perhaps the greatest obstacle for leaders is a mental one. We fight so hard for positional leadership, for validation and authority. These roles can be a hindrance to our actual ability to influence. The most important characteristic of a great leader is the willingness to take responsibility. We are enticed to leadership with the idea of taking credit for the good and blaming others for the bad. The perversion of power dynamics has us acting like spoiled kings on a throne rather than honorable influencers making a difference in this world.
A Lack of Humility
Once we achieve the status of leader, we mistakenly think we have discovered the top of the pyramid. We think it is the reward, the podium. From our perch on Mount Olympus, we now direct the chorus of laborers.
When things go awry, we assume it is the fault of the team members, the consumers, the government. Anyone but ourselves. We are quick to defend our own actions, quick to justify ourselves, quick to shift blame to anyone other than us.
In fact, we practice this in our everyday lives. ‘Traffic was terrible’. ‘Sorry I was late, had to drop off my kids at school’. We say these sorts of things in a way that blames our behavior on our circumstances. Traffic is always bad (or unpredictable at best) and kids always need to be dropped off at school. These are facts. We love to make ourselves victims of these facts rather than acknowledge the choices and responsibility we are capable of.
And victim mentality is intoxicating. We trick ourselves and others into thinking we cannot possibly be at fault. And so, once we get into a position of leadership, we feel as though some of these practices and perspectives have been working for us. And we double-down. We bury ourselves deeper in this inauthentic pile of blame-shifting and are terrified of being exposed.
Bad leaders present this god-like self-assessment. Nothing is ever our fault. We’ve created this false shell of superiority, which is really an inverted manifestation of our fear and anxiety, that we feel we must protect at all times.
Mission and Motivation
The driving difference between poor leaders and great leaders is a commitment to mission. Something external from ourselves. Otherwise, we will fight only for our own self, our own fame and power and financial compensations. And in our wake, we will leave disillusioned and frustrated people.
Taking responsibility is about submitting to a Transcendent purpose. It is about taking ownership of your journey. What choice can you make, even in the midst of those unfortunate circumstances? What could/can you have done better?
Moving from a focus on self-justification to self-empowerment is essential for vibrant living and effective leadership. We have to allow ourselves to make our choices, giving them neither too much or too little power.
Taking responsibility allows us the opportunity to grow. It sets us free from the terror of fear and shame. We cannot be a part of the solution if we never acknowledge that we are a part of the problem. We cannot grow if we never admit that we have fallen short.
It is necessary for leaders to take responsibility. To face consequences bravely. To learn from mistakes. And to break the pattern of victim mentality that shackles our potential.