Successful Leaders Understand Responsibility

I need to let you into a secret. Most successful leaders have at some stage in their leadership made a mistake: said something in the heat of the moment, made a decision that cost the company or hurt those they led. I am going through the fallout of such a thing right now. As a leader you will make mistakes. The question is, what will you do when it happens?

Let me say right off the bat that the temptation will be to look for someone else to blame. The environment you live in as you lead is one where the blame game is normal. However this is false and in fact what you must realise is that owning your mistakes is an opportunity for growth.

I have often quoted this phrase by John Maxwell – “The way you view things is the way you do things.” This is so true in the area of mistakes and failure.

Relationships work best in an environment of high trust. It sounds counter intuitive to own up to your mistakes; you would think owning up to your mistakes would cause people to think less of you and question your leadership competency. However, research reveals exactly the opposite. Admitting you have made a mistake, got things wrong, in reality is important to those you lead.

What you do when mistakes happen will reveal what is going on inside of you. Fear can drive you to make bad decisions in the moment. Reflecting on it afterwards, most of us know when it was a poor decision and often what the impact will be. When you are secure in yourself you are able to put your hand up and own the problem. It doesn’t mean it will be comfortable or devoid of pain, but it will present the opportunity to correct it.

Five Things to Understand About Taking Responsibility

1. Leaders make mistakes just like everyone else. The impact those mistakes have will be greater because of the authority and power you hold. To take responsibility is a strength not a weakness. It holds a flag up which says this is not just about me it is about the well-being and culture of the organisation.

2. When you make a mistake, own it as soon as you can. Put your hand up to it. It is interesting what your behaviour reveals. You may think people didn’t notice depending on the consequences. In reality people know and are watching to see what you will do.

3. When you are resistant to owning up to your mistakes and are looking for someone else to blame, it reveals something about your inner life. It could be this is what you have learnt, or you are fearful of people seeing you as you really are. All of this is false. Freedom comes through being transparent.

4. When you own it and take responsibility it is an opportunity for growth. It comes back to the fact that the first person you lead is yourself. The ability to verbalise and reflect on what led you to the mistake means you can decide to act differently in the future.

5. Mistakes and poor decisions need to be corrected. How will you rebuild trust? What will you put in place at a personal or corporate level to reduce the possibility that this will happen again? When the mistakes affect relationships (which is almost always) you must realise that taking responsibility is the first step. Rebuilding trust is a journey and it doesn’t happen overnight.

I will finish with this quote.

“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” John C. Maxwell

Coaching provides a safe and confidential environment to work through exactly these kind of things. You can reach me at to discover how.

Mark Billage

Mark Billage

Mark’s passion is to help realise individuals’ potential, be they leaders or team members, through empowering organisational culture. He has spent 7 years leading an organisation based in the non profit sector. In that time, he focused on creating a culture that enabled and empowered individuals, with the aim of seeing a high performing team better able to achieve the organisation’s mission.

Our Vision

To train and equip leaders to transform culture, build successful teams and organisations where everyone is seen, heard and valued for their unique contribution.

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