Despite our faith, Christian leaders don’t always have the healthiest practices. It’s so easy to get defensive in leadership. After all, all the problems no one else can solve land on your desk. What makes it really difficult is that sometimes:
1. You weren’t involved in the project in the first place.
2. You wanted to take a different direction and got outvoted.
3. You didn’t even know about it until things blew up.
When any of these things happen, everything inside you wants to say “it’s not my fault.” Who doesn’t want to escape blame?
Sometimes saying “it’s not my fault” is more subtle than those four words. For example, you might be tempted to:
1. Say you didn’t know about it.
2. Quietly tell people you were against it.
3. Say “I saw that coming. Wish I had more input.”
Bottom line is, you’re communicating that you’re not responsible.
I’m not sure the urge to say “it’s not my fault” ever goes away, but as a leader, I’ve had to learn to dump the practice.
Let’s dig deeper. Your desire to avoid blame expresses itself in a variety of ways:
1. Someone leaves your church. You say, “Well, they never fit into the culture here anyway” or “I think we were his third church in the last five years.” Translation: It’s not my fault.
2. An event comes off poorly. You say, “If we just had more help, it would have run smoothly.” Translation: It’s not my fault.
3. You’re scrambling to get a project done at the last minute. You say, “Well, if I had the source material on time and if the printer hadn’t been down on ink, I would have been done earlier.” Translation: It’s not my fault.
4. Your church hasn’t grown in two years. You say, “Very few churches are growing around here” or “If that big church hadn’t opened its new building, I’m sure we’d be growing.” Translation: It’s not my fault.
Whether or not something is your fault is kind of beside the point. If you’re the leader, you’re actually responsible. And while it’s not your fault every time, sometimes it is your fault. Be honest. And even when it’s not directly your fault, you’re the leader, so you’re responsible.
Don’t Let These Four Bad Things Happen
Here’s what’s at stake. When you fail to accept responsibility:
- You never grow.
- You create a culture of blame.
- You diminish your team.
- You model irresponsibility.
Even when it is a series of outside circumstances or a pattern beyond your control that influences the negative event, as a leader, you’re still responsible.
So how do you tackle those issues differently? I mean, there’s something inside you and something inside me that always wants to escape blame.
A Better Way
So what’s the better response then? Ignore the situation? Say it’s your fault when you really weren’t involved?
What do you do?
I think healthy leaders do three things. They:
- Assume responsibility
- Empathize appropriately with the disappointment someone is expressing
- Don’t blame events or people for the misfortune
So let’s re-imagine all four conversations:
1. Someone leaves your church. You say, “I agree, it really is a shame that they left.” Maybe you even offer to meet with them to learn. Then, even if they had ‘issues’, you walk away and try to figure out what your piece of the responsibility pie is in this situation and grow from it.
2. An event comes off poorly. You say, “Our team worked really hard. I’m proud of their efforts, but for sure, we have some learnings from this. Thanks for that feedback.” You get back to work … affirm what went right, and problem solve around how to do it differently next time.
3. You’re scrambling to get a project done at the last minute. You say, “I should have left more time for this. Sorry to have let you down with a late delivery.” You figure out how to manage your time better, allowing for unforseen delays.
4. Your church hasn’t grown in two years. You say, “I agree that I’d love our church to be growing again. I’m committed to helping us get there.” Then you sit down with your best leaders and figure out what you need to do to better realize your mission and refocus your strategy.
Question for you: Which of the two cultures described above do you want to be a part of? The culture of blame or the culture of responsibility?
Exactly. When you become a leader who accepts responsibility, your chances of being an organization that acts responsibly (and stops blaming) goes up significantly.
Accepting responsibility is a major step toward transformation. What are you learning these days about accepting responsibility? What are some of the effects of living in a culture that accepts responsibility versus one that shuns it?