“Authority can be delegated but not responsibility.”
Since our childhood, we were taught to take responsibility for our actions, both right and wrong. We were told to confront our mistakes and accept the consequences with courage and strength, rather than trying to avoid the responsibility. Growing up, this was especially ingrained in us; we were reprimanded for being evasive, and we were praised for owning up to our mistakes. This was a lesson we had to learn early, as it is a skill that was to serve us well throughout our lives. We must always be cognizant of our own actions and the consequences that follow and accept them courageously. This was a valuable lesson to carry with us, as it taught us to be honest, courageous, and strong, no matter what the situation. Apart from this, accepting the responsibility of one’s deeds also taught the critical thinking skills to critically analyze one’s actions and the resultant consequences, as our mentors taught us “seeing through till the end”.
In our professional undertaking, we were often dismayed to see those in positions of authority, holding higher portfolios shirking ownership and responsibility of their decisions that went wrong. Rather than taking responsibility for their decisions and actions, they would often attempt to shift the blame onto the people beneath them. This would concern us, as it created an atmosphere of distrust and resentment, with detrimental effect on the effectiveness and morale of the team. I understand all too well the feelings of betrayal and abandonment that come with being disowned by the boss. I know the helplessness, the feeling of being adrift, the depression and despair that can quickly settle in. It’s a feeling like no other. It’s a feeling of being let down, of being abandoned, and of being anchor-less.
Since the dawn of mankind, self-centeredness has been an innate trait of homo heidelbergensis and homo sapiens, where people have tended to prioritize their own needs and desires over those of others. Such streaks in humanity’s character, for not taking ownership of one’s actions, has been a cause for contempt throughout history. Those who exhibit this trait are often seen as untrustworthy and are usually avoided.
At the individual level, this can be detrimental to one’s character, but when it is displayed by someone in a position of power, it can prove to be dangerous and destructive. Leadership is an often-debated topic with two schools of thought: those who believe leaders are born, and those who believe they can be made. The former group cite natural traits like charisma, confidence, and communication skills as evidence of a natural leadership ability, while the latter group point to the ever-growing number of leadership programs as proof of the ability to develop and hone leadership skills. Out of the many traits of the leader that scholars, philosophers, and military men have identified, Max Weber elucidates one particular trait of successful leaders that has been the subject of much discussion i.e., “The Responsibility.”
This attribute is a vital part of any leader’s inventory and can be the difference between success or failure. Weber argued that a responsible leader should reflect critically on both means and the ends. He argued that it is not enough for a leader to have a good vision and the right means to achieve it; he must also understand and project himself in the future to see the implications of those decisions and actions.
Similarly, the moral standing of leaders has been a source of intense debate throughout history. Great political minds such as Plato and Machiavelli have devoted their lives contemplating on the qualities of a leader. Extensive reading material on traits of leadership reveals one important trait that cannot be overlooked: “ownership.” This trait is an essential part of effective leadership and involves a deep commitment to the followers. The moral standing of a leader should be evaluated not only from any ideological or political vantage point, but also from the perspective of followers. Leaders have an important responsibility to demonstrate that they care for their followers. Their sense of ownership is something that will always be judged by the supporters. It is essential that the leaders show this gesture to the followers that they care about them and are invested in their well-being. But this can only happen when alchemy of the followers is understood.
We know that there is no leadership without followership, followers play a critical role in politics, but then we have hardly contemplated on this constituent of paramount importance in politics. Who is a follower? A simplistic view is someone who follows the leader. Kellerman and Nye have attempted to define follower in various typologies like critical, independent, proactive, isolated, fence-sitters, activists, diehard, alienated, empowered, passive, and conformists. Leadership and followership have complex linkages where on one side of the spectrum, the leader gives vision and leads the followers, while at the other end of the spectrum the followers control the leadership processes. We inject our next question here, what do the followers want from a leader? I know you all know the answer, and among those bullet points somewhere also lies “ownership,” their expectation of being taken care of and for being owned.
Ownership is a daemon, easier said than done. Leadership is a gambit, much like a toss, flipping the coin, that comes up a heads or tail, good or bad decisions, actions, and their consequences. The leader takes full responsibility of all the shortcomings and missteps, and every failure of the subordinates and the followers. It is a heavy burden to bear, where the leader takes the ownership of everything that goes wrong. Despite self-esteem, reputation, and ego, taking the ownership is the right thing by the leader, the only thing. The leader cannot absolve himself from the responsibility by blaming second-tier leaders or the followers.
Adolf Hitler is an example who disowned his followers when things went wrong. Towards the end of World War II, Hitler began to distance himself from his followers and disowned responsibility for the consequences, blaming his generals, officers and even the German people for the setbacks. A leader puts his character in question when he disowns his followers in troubled waters. Such a leader does not have the courage to stand behind the choices he has made and the consequences of his decisions and plans. He is not willing to take responsibility for the team’s actions and instead blames his followers. This type of behavior is unacceptable and damaging to the morale of the entire team. A true leader is willing to take responsibility for his choices and support his followers even when things do not go as planned. How would we grade a leader who abandons his followers when the going gets tough?
A leader takes extreme ownership of everything that impacts followers and the mission. There is no one else to blame for success or failure – it rests on the leader alone. Acknowledging mistakes and failures, owning, and not abandoning the followers, and re-strategizing for victory remains the hallmark of leadership. Do not be afraid to admit when something has gone wrong – this shows strength of character and will inspire confidence in the followers. Lead with courage, integrity, and ownership: that is the path to success!
What an enlightening piece of work! So elaborately put together. You have this gift , the eloquence comes from number of references you lay down in front of your reader. One can not but agree with the stance of the article in the end….
We are all leaders in one or the other capacity. I think there are substantial take aways for all the readers. Thanks again