The Responsibility of Leadership

After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”

 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69 (The Message)

There is a now famous saying that President Harry S. Truman had on a little plaque on his desk- “The Buck Stops Here”. The saying is perhaps a bit trite nowadays, but the principle is still relevant. Back in those days, the early 1950’s, the idea resonated bit more than it does today. We had just come through the great conflict of World War II, and military type thinking was still much more accepted. Radical responsibility said that the leader took full ownership of anything that happened under his/her watch. If there was a mishap, a failure, a problem, the leader took responsibility for it, even if the specifics of the problem were not directly attributable to the leader.

President Truman had to make some very difficult decisions. He had to decide upon dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. He had to decide proper actions on a national steel strike. He had to decide on firing General Douglas MacArthur when MacArthur defied orders. Truman made some important, and often unpopular decisions, but he owned them and accepted the consequences.  

Perhaps this is harsh, but it points out the ultimate nature of responsibility. The leader does not get to blame underlings or others for failures that happen on his/her watch. Blame is not projected onto others, and the leader cannot act like a victim. Real leaders accept that they are ultimately responsible for the organization they lead and, by extension, the lives of those people in that organization.

People can follow a leader whom they trust. People can trust leaders who accept responsibility, and those who own the consequences of their decisions. Casting blame onto others for failures is not an option. Yes, leadership is hard, and often unfair. But that is the cost of leadership.

Prayer: As Peter replied to Jesus, you are the only leader who has the words of life. Help us follow, Amen.

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