The Thoughtful Leader

Tag Archives: Solution-focus

Accepting Responsibility for One’s Mistakes as a Leader

Frank Rich’s Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times, “No One Is to Blame for Anything,” describes the inability of top leaders to take responsibility for their own part when things go wrong in the economy, in the Catholic church, in political scandals, in business, and in a myriad of other arenas of public life. Where does Systems-Based Leadership stand on the issues of personal responsibility that Rich writes about? In Chapter 5, “Differentiation: The Key to Leadership in Anxious Times,” Leslie and I describe a high-level leader’s ability to maintain a “solid self” even during times of enormous pressure. The solid self is “made of up firmly held convictions and beliefs arrived at through life experience” and is non-negotiable. A leader with a clearly established solid self can act, react, and make decisions based on deeply held principles, rather than responding to the fears of the moment. Learning to function this way is of course not easy and can take a lifetime: “Systems-based leadership is not a skill or a technique as much as it is a process of continuous emotional maturing (p. 124).” A central part of that emotional maturity is learning to be accountable for your own behavior when things go wrong, stepping up, admitting your mistakes, and collaborating with those around you to find positive solutions to problems, so that similar mistakes can be avoided in the future. The immaturity and anxiety of some of our leaders when their errors have been unveiled keep us stuck in cycles of blame and evasion – in a “gotcha” mentality – that impede our ability to solve large societal problems.
As a business leader how hard is it for you to acknowledge your own part when things go wrong, to learn from your mistakes, and move ahead?