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A Must Phrase for Leaders: Everything is My Fault

Dilbert's take on "everything is my fault" responsible leadership. Cartoon credit: Scott Adams

Everything is my fault!

Leadership is not about a particular position or title in an organization, it’s a responsibility. Peter Drucker first introduced this concept in his ground-breaking leadership work. The best leaders take full responsibility for anything that happens within their team – in other words, they embrace the concept of “everything is my fault”.

It is a simple concept, yet one that remains elusive for too many. Responsibility, more specifically the idea of taking responsibility for what the team does is a concept that differentiates great leadership from the rest.

What is the difference between accountability and responsibility? 

Accountability is about being answerable to someone else. An accountable leader willingly accepts projects, tasks, results, or outcomes. Responsibility goes further, much further than accountability. Responsibility is the frame of mind that operates under a philosophy of “I am the one to make sure this happens”. It could be driven by a belief, value, social obligation, or simply a job requirement.

How can we identify leaders that fail to take responsibility?

Simply listen for the “we’re in this situation because of XYZ” or “it’s not my fault because of ABC” or nothing more complicated than “it’s all your fault that DEF customer is unhappy”. The list could quite easily go on because weak leaders have endless excuses and reasons why something is not their fault.

So how do you ensure that you become a responsible leader?

Responsible leader attributes

Responsible leaders manage relationships and activities in multiple directions (see Figure 1). A sense of responsibility influences how we behave with our team members, our management hierarchy, and with peers. 

Figure 1: The responsible leadership ecosystem

The typical characteristics demonstrated by a leader that subscribes to the principle of “everything is my fault” are as follows:

Responsible leadership goes beyond actions to include an attitude of responsibility. These behaviours can be quite subtle, yet they are impactful and important.

Attitudes that reflect “everything is my fault”

It begins with alignment with the organization, its mission, and its objectives. For instance, our personal goals fall second to the team’s goals, and team goals are superseded by organizational needs. There is no ambiguity in this decision-making hierarchy.

It continues with doing the right things even when no one is watching, or for which there is no immediate payoff for doing so. It’s about playing the long game and always doing what is right for the greater good.

Another classic example is in how responsible leaders treat company assets. They often use resources with even more care than if they were their own. 

You can increase your own responsibility. First, remember that you are no longer primarily responsible for your own outcomes and results, but for those of your team. It is much less about what you do, are much more about what your team achieves. This change in mindset is one that takes focus and effort – it has sunk many aspiring leaders because they are unable to make the switch from oneself first to the team first.

Final Thoughts

Adopting an “everything is my fault” philosophy underpins the ability to be a responsible leader. Responsible leaders must deliver on three key aspects: Organizational performance, continuous improvement/innovation, and trust. Today that list extends to include sustainability alongside trust which is earned by embedding a multistakeholder approach to doing the right things. 

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your advice with others on how you are transitioning (or have transitioned) to responsible leadership. The “everything is my fault” elite group of leaders awaits you…  

Give it a try!

Cartoon credit: Scott Adams

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