Articles of Faith: Leaders Take Responsibility

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This post is part of our Sunday Series titled “Articles of Faith.”
We investigate leadership lessons from the Bible.
See the whole series here. Published only on Sundays.

Everyone is a leader…

No matter if you are a one day-old or 121-years young, you have influence over someone else. So everyone is in a leadership position of some kind. From leading yourself, or a family, or a single parent with children, or a CEO, or The President; everyone is a leader of someone. Therefore all of us have influence over ourselves and over someone else. And with that, we are responsible for that influence.

Jeremiah understood this. When God called him he responded with a “Yes!” Without question, Jeremiah the prophet had one of the toughest assignments to date. Not that much different than some of the assignments that you and I are facing today; calling people to change, to move people in a new direction. Jeremiah took responsibility. He was an authentic leader.

Old Fashioned People Mover

Leadership means to transport one or more from where they are to some other place. That other place can be good or bad in terms of the journey or in terms of the eventual outcome. We transport others by influencing someone to do something that has never been done before. And with doing this, there is always risk involved. Because leaders move people, the only way to positively move people is to connect with them. And this must be done on an individual and collective basis.

That connection is built on trust, trust is built on truth, and truth is built on taking responsibility.

I’m sure you have noticed that many leaders today never seemingly take responsibility. Look at Haiti’s post-earthquake conditions for one example of this. It seems like everyone is blaming someone else for the problems. True leaders do not blame or pass the buck. They take responsibility. You and I are responsible as leaders (and as people movers) to do what is right no matter what the polls say, nor what others think, and no matter how much money or personal gain we will lose or make.

When we accept responsibility it includes:

• Acknowledging that you are solely responsible for the choices in your life.
• Accepting that you are responsible for what you choose to feel or think.
• Accepting that you choose the direction for your life.
• Accepting that you cannot blame others for the choices you have made.
• Tearing down the mask of defense or rationale for why “others are responsible” for who you are, or what has happened to you, or what you are bound to become.

I could go on and on and on, but rather, simply look at the news and count how many issues our national government is dealing with because leaders have not and will not take responsibility for their actions. See how many times another person, institution, or previous administration is held up as the one to blame. Does this strike you as ‘leadership” when you hear and see this type of behavior? You can see it at all levels in the government, business, families, and individuals. No go back and study any historically significant leader and see if they took responsibility, or if they engaged in blamestorming.

Why do we personally, professionally, and as a society tolerate irresponsibility?

As my pastor reminded us “Irresponsibility is not neutral.”

Irresponsibility costs everyone something. Collectively, why don’t we often enough just stand up and be responsible and just do what is right based on our actions? Could it be that the world/people are not getting better at accepting responsibility because we have become accustomed to irresponsibility? I wonder what the world would like if leaders today would just take responsibility, be honest and tell the truth? I wonder what the world would be like if we had more Jeremiahs?

May be President Kennedy had it right when he said.

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

In my book “Leadership in Blue Jeans,” I share with the reader very transparently a time in my life where I learned this lesson of taking responsibility as a leader no matter what the cost. It helped me to become a secure leader. I trust it will help many others who hear this.

This is why I shared this leadership lesson with you and also why I sat down to write the book. If an ordinary person like me in blue jeans can learn and apply lessons in life to become a better leader, so can you – it is our responsibility.

So what are you doing to step up and take responsibility as a leader? Are you doing this in all cases where you are the person in charge? Or do you make sure you spread the blame sometimes just to make your life “easier?” Also, do you step up and take responsibility for solutions even when you are not the person in positional authority? What lessons have you learned about leadership by taking the high road? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Tom Atema is VP of Business Development at John C. Maxwell’s non-profit EQUIP organization.
He can be reached at

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Securing Your Legacy

What’s your exit strategy?

“What? Who? Are you talkin’ to me??”

If you are about to jump ship or you are plotting to move your career elsewhere in the next 3 to 5 years, then I’m talking to you. And here is a serious question that you should be consistently considering:

How will your leadership be regarded after you have left the job and have hit the road?

In considering your leadership legacy and beginning to work on an exit strategy, you need to be concerned with three thing:

Your ideas, your initiatives, and your people.

I’m sure you’ve had some great ideas and maybe even implemented several of them. But will they persist after you have gone?  Will both your initiatives and the people on your team shine when you are not there to mentor them anymore? What is your legacy going to be once you are no longer there? Here are the three things to think about in building that better legacy.

On Ideas

Every leader has the responsibility to come up with creative problem solving ideas that are supposed to keep things running smoothly. Some positions require a lot more ideas coming in than others. Some workplace environments are more conducive to change, while others are more reluctant to the concept of implementing “new & improved” ideas. But no matter whether you are overtly required to come up with ideas or not, it is going to be required of you in some degree. And as a leader, your ideas matter. So take a look at the ones you have already created.

So, do your ideas stick around after you are not pushing them?

Are they dependent upon you, or did you build them with longevity and a legacy in mind? a great leadership legacy has tried and true ideas that stand the test of time.

On Initiatives

Structuring change so that a smooth implementation is engineered with collaboration and buy-in from all quarters involved is key to a successful plan roll-out. And just like with any strong structure that is built to last, it is also foundational to the long term success of your project after you’ve moved on.  Perhaps you wrote the product launch procedure, you developed the new marketing communication program, or you’ve created the strategy for increased client sales.

How are you rolling it out to the team and to the company so that it is effectively communicated and designed for efficiency?

How much are you involved day to day and what happens when you go on vacation? A great leadership legacy is built with plans that roll out smoothly so that foundations are built with strength and durability.

On People

It’s inevitable that some on your team will require more hand holding than others.  And what about those whose goal is to take over your job.  Are you afraid of that occurrence and are trying to thwart their efforts? Or are you grooming them for the future with confidence and poise? If you have in mind securing a great leadership legacy, you will be asking yourself compelling questions that allow you the freedom to leave gracefully.

Ask yourself: “How am I helping the right person achieve eventual success in my current position?” And “Who is next in line to take over my position and responsibilities when I have moved on?

Preparing your team through training and mentoring in addition to providing critical information is key to setting them up for success when you’re gone.  I’ve found that allowing those working for you to spin and toil on their own problems and allowing them to come up with their own solutions helps them grow more quickly than if I had stepped in to intervene immediately.

When I help someone who has less knowledge or experience with a critical sales call or with a leadership presentation, it continues a mentoring process that both stretches my employee as well as enables them to appreciate me for my responsibilities. This helps everyone learn and grow toward a better legacy.

Some of us truly are indispensable and control information critical for our position.  How are you making this available and easy to understand for the one who follows you?

The mark of a great leader is the legacy one leaves behind.

How your company survives and recovers from your absence is a tribute to your leadership.

Are you setting up your company for success in the long term? What is your exit strategy? Will the company remain strong and not falter upon your departure?

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Jennifer Werth is the founder and principle consultant of a
training and engineering service organization.  She can be reached via email, and through her blog.

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Leadership Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Leaders can significantly improve their skills by having outside hobbies, passions and pursuits.

It helps them channel their energies, frustrations and passions into something else other than organizational effectiveness. It can also help them learn a thing or two…

Business leader Carol Cone of Cone, Inc., a leader in cause-related branding programs is also a champion in the highly competitive world of showing horses when she is not leading her firm.

Cone enjoys this extra curricular activity in part because it closely relates to her role in leading her organization. For the uninitiated, the world of showing horses is about riding horses, known as hunters, over jumps of various heights. The key is to make it look as smooth and effortless as possible, much like ice skating, or like leading a successful organization. But prior to showing horses, things were a bit different.

For two decades, Cone focused single-mindedly on leading and growing her business.

When friends encouraged her to find a personal passion to pursue, it was natural for Cone to return to the equestrian world and the sport she had first enjoyed at age seven.


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Cone not only re-connected with the joy of the sport, but in her unabashedly direct style, says she realized “that I was very good at it!”   Her recent honors include the Grand Champion Adult Hunter at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida for 2006/2007 and the American Hunter/Jumper Foundation National Adult Champion in 2006.

More important, her return to showing horses has taught her four key leadership lessons which she applies at Cone, Inc. and she recommends to  others.

The four key lessons are:

1) Focus
2) Patience
3) Teamwork
4) The Importance of Little Victories


“When you’ve practiced for months, and have only two minutes to do a championship performance, you must be totally focused on the moment.  You’ve got so many moving parts on which to concentrate, many of which are new or different: the course, your competitors, the crowd and that day’s weather.”

Cone says that even with a great relationship between rider and horse, the rider must sense if the horse is quiet or nervous.

One must instinctively sense “if you should push, or if you should hold back.”

That kind of intense focus is critical in today’s challenging and rapidly-changing work environment, she adds.


Cone says you can only push horses so far.  “You must be patient about their development.”  She says the same is true of your team, particularly specific team members.

“Remember, a team isn’t one person, but a group of individuals.”

It’s also critical to be patient when bringing clients to a Big Idea.  “You need to give clients the time to understand all the elements before they’re going to take a big leap with you.”  And you have to explain the importance of  patience to those clients.  “They must understand the need to  be associated with a cause over time before gaining reputational benefits.”

“When you’re showing, you can have the best horse in the world, but if it needs to be cooled down, or massaged or even get acupuncture, or if it requires an advance ride around the ring at 6:00 am to feel comfortable,” patience is a virtue you must develop to win.

Cone acknowledges that as someone who is very competitive and committed to superb results, this was a tough, but vital lesson for her to have to learn.


Cone is quick to acknowledge that her victories in the show ring aren’t merely her own, but shared with an extensive team, including  trainers, grooms, vets, masseuses, blacksmiths and more.

The same is true of cause-related efforts:  It requires a team of dedicated agency professionals, a patient client team who believes in the cause, partners at the cause organization, even the media.

“But when it all works,” Cone says, “it’s like a symphony.”


Cone says that “When you lead an organization, as when you show horses, you must accept that you can’t win every competition,” but you should recognize, acknowledge, learn from, and savor the little victories along the way.

She adds that “Every day I need to accomplish something to be satisfied.”

Still, it’s unrealistic to think that each day will bring a major victory, and if that’s what leaders seek, they’re bound to be disappointed.  But celebrating the small victories along the way can inspire a team to deliver the next big idea.

As Patrice Tanaka acknowledged in a recent post about the leadership lessons she learned from ballroom dancing, Cone says there’s one other important learning that leaders can gain by following their passions:  “I have an intensity that’s powerful and can overwhelm others.  Having another outlet where I can excel allows me to modify that intensity; and that makes me a better leader.”

What leadership lessons might you learn from pursuing your passion?  Is your intensity burning out members of your staff?  Are you overdue for a lesson in patience?   Is it time to start celebrating the small victories?  When the last time you acknowledged the team that helped make you a winner?

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Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting LLC.
He can be reached at

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The Truly Situational Leader

I believe that truly great leaders are timeless and can lead in any situation.

leadership-definedHowever, most leaders are situational leaders, and by that I mean that they can lead in certain situations perhaps because of some situational knowledge or some other quality that they posses.  Unfortunately, when leaders do a good job in a certain situations they usually get the opportunity to lead again.  This is where the truly genuine leaders will separate themselves from the situational leaders.  Thus, the expirate date begins.

Great leaders are timeless and can lead through a variety of situations and circumstances.

Much of my background is from high tech companies and I was able to achieve success leading teams where I may not have had the deep technical knowledge that the team members had.  But, that’s ok as my job was not to write the code but rather to lead the team and to know enough of the technology (substitute your product here) to know when I was getting a line of BS and when I was hearing the truth.


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In the business world, leadership is about finding solutions and helping clear barriers out of the way so that people can get their job done.

If my theory is correct, and I think it is, I hardly blame the leader. Rather, I blame their management for not recognizing the capabilities of a situational leader.  I think we have all seen this happen.

If you find yourself in a leadership position, then I urge you to always perform an assessment of your skills and the situation that you are in.  Ask for feedback from all around you: your peers, your direct reports and management with regards to how they see things. This will help you gauge your effectiveness and will provide you with a system of checks-and-balances.

Also, when asking for feedback, be clear in what you are doing.  You are not asking for consensus, but for input to how they see the environment and help you asses your skills.  If you are a situational leader, then have fun with it. But also recognize that you may be more a manager than a leader and over time you will most likely need to change roles.

How are you handling your role as a leader? Are you a situational leader, or do you expand your horizons to understand the whole landscape before you? What are you doing to grow your capabilities to become increasingly effective for others around you?

Pride: The Silent Leadership Assasin


Pride is a powerful foe. Even the best leaders can easily fall victim to this silent assassin if they are are not vigilant.

How often have we seen leaders fall from places of significance and influence to places of disgrace? It seems like a regular occurrence that we hear about a leader who comes crashing back to reality after pride has taken over.

Pride & Pain

Pride can cause you pain and damage in a variety of ways. It can be as scant as a simple bruising of the ego in one incidence. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, it can cost you a large portion of your leadership effectiveness and credibility.

Remember, it is very apparent to others, and less apparent to us, when we get our heads and hearts filled with the prideful venom of self-saturation and adulation. It eats our credibility from the inside out.

Like a Ninja, pride can be very stealthy and can quickly disable or eliminate a leader with little warning or fanfare.


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I have found that through every season of my life and throughout my development journey as a leader, that pride has been a consistent, persistent, and worthy adversary.

Consider the Source

For me, protection from pride comes from a variety of sources.

One of the most powerful and meaningful is the unconditional love and support from my wife, Erin.  She is my greatest cheerleader (and was one in real life) and my strongest defense against this leadership assassin.  She keeps me grounded and always brings me back to reality and focused on what is truly important in life and as a leader.

With every individual or team success, the unwary leader can increase their vulnerability to the destructive forces of pride. The same skills, competencies and values that make you successful as a leader can be the very things that can “puff you up” and replace humility in your heart with a lethal dose of venomous pride.

“As a leader, you must be proactive and put defenses in place to protect your heart and status as a leader from the ‘Silent Leadership Assassin’.”

One strong defense against pride is a network of other leaders who can and will be honest with you when they see pride creeping up on you.  Sometimes others can easily see the enemy approaching and can help you thwart an attack and keep your leadership strong and on track.

I challenge you to develop, cultivate and utilize your own defensive team of leaders to keep you accountable and safe.

Please share any experiences in your own leadership journey when pride may have gotten the best of you and the impact it made.  I would also love to hear stories of tools you have used that have been an effective defense against pride.

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“Thing” or a Person?

ThingI may be dating myself with this question, but remember the TV show, “The Addams Family?” One of the “characters” on the show was “Thing.”  It was portrayed as a hand that would occasionally rise up out of a box to perform some small task.  Thing had no face, no specific identity, no role in family celebrations or tragedy.  No one really paid much attention to it.  It basically was a hand that, every once in a while, was helpful to the family. 

Think about the people you work with.  How are they referred to  in your business planning?  Are they “Full Time Equivalents” (FTEs), or “Human Resources” or “Essential (or, worse yet, Non-essential) Personnel”?  Are they “Budget Lines,” “Cost Centers,” “Talent” or “Revenue Generators?”  Are your people viewed as a “Thing?”

Like Thing on The Addams Family, are your people given very little attention and just expected to be helpful once in a while?  Do we hope they stay in their box and just come out when we need them?

As leaders, we must remember – and help others remember - that our most valuable resource are people, first.  If we treat them like Thing, they will act like Thing.  If we treat them as people, they will respond in kind. has a great book called “Finding Keepers,” all about hiring and keeping the best employees.  The book concludes with this paragraph:

It comes down to this: do you treat people as human beings or do you treat them as assets, as commodities?  If you don’t care about people, they’ll have a hard time caring about you.  But if you care about them as employees, as friends, as partners in business, and as neighbors and colleagues, they’re bound to join you and stay engaged.  Respect, recognition, and engagement are the essence of finding keepers.

How do you keep your organization from viewing people as a “Thing?”

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Hierarchy of Organizational Needs – Continued (3 of 3)

Maslow's Pyramid

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid – 1943

Maslow’s Pyramid – Continued (3 of 3)

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (HON) |  Part1Part 2 | Part 3

It may be evident by now that, beyond Level 2, organizational culture plays a vital role in an organization’s position in the Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (HON) model.  It may also be evident that your organization’s level is partially one of choice.   HP, for example, throughout its early history (prior to 1999) chose to operate at level 5.  That was the choice of the founders, Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett, and the hallmark of HP’s culture, known as theHP Way.  Much of the focus in this blog will be on leadership of companies that find themselves today at Level 2.

Maslow’s theory of motivation (seen in the  illustration above) is that as humans we will naturally attempt to satisfy the more basic needs (physiological) before directing behavior and energy toward satisfying upper-level needs.  Having satisfied the need at a given level, that need ceases to motivate us and we move up the pyramid. 


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As individuals, we almost never stay at a given level throughout our lives.  Most of us have resided at different levels, depending on what was happening to and around us at any given point.

If you have ever experienced not knowing where your next meal is coming from, you have experienced being at Level 1.

People in our communities today who are losing their homes are experiencing being at Level 2.   When we lose a job, it may initially feel like we are again motivated by Level 3 needs, but it can quickly wash us down to Level 2 and even Level 1 if we can’t pay the mortgage.

Much of the premise of Maslow’s theory holds true for the Hierarchy of Organizational Needs as well.

When an organization is fighting to keep the lights on and make the next payroll, its leaders are not thinking about recruiting top-notch talent or setting the stage for the next big innovation.  However, once Stability (Level 2) has been attained, and equilibrium seems attainable, the choices and options become much broader and more interesting and leaders have the opportunity to take a longer term view of their circumstances and the future.

How is your organization doing with navigating the current economic pressures? What level is your organization in? Where are you in the mix?

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (HON) |  Part1Part 2 | Part 3

Posted on February 27, 2009 by Contributing Author Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D