A Leader’s Responsibility

During workshops and talks I’m often asked about what to do when you’ve hired someone who just isn’t measuring up.

Sometimes people actually tell me the person they hired is an idiot.

I tell people don’t be so hard on yourself. They get a bit of a surprised look on their face because they didn’t intend to be hard on themselves. They intended to point out that in their wisdom they, apparently for some reason, purposefully hired an idiot.

The first problem of course is thinking that one of your people is an idiot. Once one of your people knows your low opinion of them they are unlikely to exceed your low expectations. Never ask or expect less from your people than you need or want them to deliver.

I believe that leadership comes with certain responsibilities. If you actually have the audacity and courage to accept the mantle of leadership then you must also be willing to accept the wide range of responsibilities that come with it.

The responsibility to put people in their strengths zone is one example. If you’ve hired someone and they are not getting the job done there are only two possibilities.

You’re not going to like either one.

The first one is that you simply hired the wrong person. Yes, you simply hired the wrong person. If they truly cannot get the job done then why did you hire them? If they didn’t have the skills, knowledge, and experience to successfully complete the requirements of their role then why in the world did you hire them? You must have just hired the wrong person.

The second possibility is that you did hire the right person but you’re not giving them the tools they need to succeed. You, as a leader may not be teaching them the additional skills required to truly excel. Your may not be transferring your additional knowledge and experience to them.

Either way, if you’ve hired someone who is not succeeding it’s your responsibility. When you accept 100% responsibility for the success of your people you begin to grow as a leader.

When you accept 100% responsibility for the success of the people you’ve hired you’ll no longer be so quick to dismiss them with a “they’re an idiot” flick of your tongue. You will stop “spending time on” and start “investing time with” your people.

Now, let me stop a good number of you right now. You’re thinking of a million “excuses” right now why you can’t be held 100% responsible for the success of your people. I’ve heard them all 100’s of times, heck, I’ve used them dozens of times.

Let me also tell you this: if you allow yourself those excuses then the chances of one or more of your people failing goes way way up! Don’t tell yourself that you’ll accept 50% of the responsibility but “they” have to give 50% too. I’ll guarantee you that it’s not a 50-50 proposition because your people will not succeed with you, their leader, giving a 50% effort in helping them develop and succeed. The fact is, when it’s a 100-100 proposition then your people have a great chance at success.

Leadership is a big deal. It’s not just a position, title or concept. It is real, it comes with serious consequential responsibilities. If you can’t handle them, or are unwilling to accept them, then you should reconsider your role as a leader.

There is no harm in choosing not to lead, leadership is not for everyone. The harm comes from accepting the challenge of leadership without the commitment to accept the responsibility of a leader as well.

Leaders can make excuses or they can make more leaders. They can’t do both. What are you making?

27 thoughts on “A Leader’s Responsibility

  1. Recently, I heard that one of the really great guys of our organization was eliminated from his position – a position that had been “reorganized” a few years after his hire into a role that really didn’t ask much of his skill set or experience. Management / leadership said: We don’t know what to do with him. My response? That’s YOUR fault, not his. The good news: he found a job immediately, and two different departments fought to get him. The bad news: our organization lost a great guy and a super contributor because lazy and unimaginative leadership “couldn’t figure out what to do with him.” Sadly, this is not an isolated case.

    1. Yep, you’re right. It is not an isolated case and is not limited to any one particular company. Not until a leader accepts responsibility for the success of their people will they truly work to help their people succeed.

      The sad fact is they may hold a leadership position but if they are not working to help their people succeed then they are not really leading.

  2. Mmm, but what about the candidates who lie about their ability to do the job and then show a bad attitude to attempts at coaching? A bad hiring decision, yes, but on good faith.

    1. Yes, we can be fooled, STILL we, as leaders, must accept responsibility. It you leave yourself “wiggle room” you will eventually find a way to wiggle out of any responsibility.

  3. We have a great deal of people in this society who have learned how to present well, say the right things, but who really do not have a good work ethic and somehow feel entitled to quite a bit. I can teach and coach a person who has the right attitude and work ethic…..and give me all of those people…..but its like the old saying…..you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, these people with the wrong work ethic and entitlement attitude, will never be your top workers no matter how much you coach and teach them. Those people need a conversion experience, which usually happens, after going through the school of hard knocks (not because they were taught or coached into having a good work ethic) There are a lot of good employers and bosses out there who beat themselves up enough, my advise is, learn from your mistakes, do the best you can, be harder on yourself than anyone else, but if a person presented well, had a good resume, put references that would only speak highly of themselves (duh…who doesn’t) and they don’t work out because they just don’t have the right work ethic…..if you have done all the above…..move on and don’t look back. Time is a precious commodity and if people can’t be faithful to the way they present when they are interviewed…..that’s on them. I have hired a lot of people in my life….My best employees are not people I have “trained or coached better” they are just better workers…..with better work ethics….better personal responsibility…..and better personal discipline. They are also usually humble and don’t feel entitled. That’s why my line cook is now the Executive Chef of my 2 restaurants and a person who I hired as a server is the GM of those 2 restaurants.

    1. Thanks for the comment Shawn. I’d have to say that you’re coming dangerously close to that excuse thing I was talking about.

      If leading people was easy everyone would be doing it. It is easy just disposing of people and hiring new ones but that is not what leadership is about. Leadership is more about helping people be more than they ever thought they could be. Yes, that requires effort, sometimes tremendous effort but that is what authentic leaders sign up for.

      I understand that you best employees may not be the ones you trained or coached but someone did. Somewhere in their life they were positively impacted by a leader, that’s how that got to be “better workers.”

      1. I think most people open to reading you, are already really trying hard….and are already high achievers…..and maybe blame themselves to much…..here is my point…..

        God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
        The courage to change the things I can,
        And the wisdom to know the difference.

        Not everyone is going to make it at there job…..we all want it to happen….some do a better job at training than others….some have more money and can be more patient…..if you work in government….you can hope, wish and train forever….because its somebody else’s money and time you are spending so I guess you can take 100 percent responsibility for years because if you are in government……money grows on trees. But in the real world, there is money, time and long term business consequences to keeping poor employees too long.

        My point it is, I think people need to realize quicker when to cut the cord if somebody is cancer, or is just not up for a job. Whether you made the mistake or the employee made the mistake. Its the right thing to do for the business and its the right thing to do for the employee. Its not easy and its never to be taken lightly. Without wisdom…..you could be spinning your wheels for a long time hurting your business.

      2. You make a good point. I taught I class just today where I said terminating anyone must be a last resort… but, when we realize that, for whatever reason, that they must go then they must go immediately.

        Hanging on to someone who cannot perform just hurts everyone involved.

        Some people in leadership positions can’t admit they hired the wrong person, again, for whatever reason, or that they (the leader) just can’t help them succeed. So they let them hang on way too long.

        The moment you confirm that somebody has to go then that is the moment they should go. Responsibility and blame are far less important at the point then fixing the mistake and moving forward.

  4. This has applications outside of the business world. I work in Non-profits, certainly we need to take responsibility for our employees but we also need to be accountable for our choice of volunteers and how we utilize their skills and talents.

  5. Steve,
    I agree 100%. My theory has always been that NO ONE wakes up in the morning and says, “Boy, I’m enjoying totally F*ing up.” Everyone wants to do a great job. Therefore, if they aren’t, it’s due to one of three reasons. 1. Haven’t been trained (employer fault) 2. Not capable (poor hire- employer fault) 3. They have interpersonal personal or work issues/personality conflicts and drama (not our fault but our responsibility to get to the bottom of and help them resolve). All three reasons for employees not meeting our expectations are our responsibility. Suck it up and do the right thing, Leaders. Stop blaming and making excuses.

    1. Thanks Heather, I believe this much is certain, if we give ourselves an “out” we’ll take it. By accepting responsibility we at least give ourselves a chance to help our people succeed.

      Leaders who refuse to accept responsibility for their leadership decisions are leaders in name only. They are not Authentic Leaders.

  6. Reblogged this on letter to a new manager and commented:
    This is a fantastic article – I couldn’t say it better myself. The only thing that I would add is the reminder of how awful it feels when you know you are not performing well at your job and how much worse that it will feel if you feel that you have been “written off” in the work world.

  7. Thanks for the post, Steve! I believe a leader needs to be proactive in providing his/her teams positive and constructive feedback since it is crucial for leaders to build trust from promoting transparency.

    “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” ~ Kenneth Blanchard

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