Responsibility Is Not A Gift

If you don’t have much time to read this post, remember this:

The first question isn’t “do you want to be a leader?” The first question is “do you want to be responsible?”

Responsibility is a choice. If you’re going to serve others in a leadership role,  you will have the choice to accept it or to take it.


Becoming a leader doesn’t start off with the willingness to be a leader, it begins with the willingness to be responsible. Leadership is characterized by responsibility.

Today, Rob Blagojevich awaits sentencing. According to the Los Angeles Times, Blagojevich is now remorseful for his crimes, crimes which he had vehemently denied up until last week.

Blagojevich told U.S. District Judge James Zagel on Wednesday morning that he was not just sorry — he was “unbelievably sorry” — for mistakes that he said had been “terrible.”

When it comes to responsibility, there’s often two types of consequences. The first consequence is when things go well, taking responsibility ends with praise. The second is when things go bad, taking responsibility ends with punishment.

Most people don’t like punishment, but they rather enjoy praise. So they’ll typically accept responsibility hoping it will end in praise and not punishment. This is because they view responsibility as a gift rather than a risk. You can’t accept responsibility like you accept a gift. You must take it. Then you must live with it.

It is the fear of punishment that causes us to dodge responsibility for as long as we can. We cast blame on anyone and anything to get out of being punished. Because we spend so much time and energy trying to avoid responsibility out of fear of punishment, we miss out on the reward that responsibility offers when we take it in the midst of failure and mistakes.

Take the blame. Take the consequence. Take the responsibility. Then watch what happens. The person who immediately takes responsibility for his or actions when things go bad earns respect. Not only respect from others but self-respect as well. Andrew Sullivan noted, “Errors are inevitable. The mark of character is not refusing to recognize them, but acknowledging them and taking responsibility.” Yes, there will be consequences one must face. But people admire the strength and courage of an individual who takes responsibility seriously. Taking responsibility can not be seen as a last ditch effort because all other options have failed and one is trying to save face. Rather, the reward of respect is given to the one who takes personal responsibility from beginning to end.

When you accept responsibility, you’re receiving it from someone else. A crisis or error occurs and people are looking for someone to be held responsible. There are a number of options, all kinds of people or processes they could lay the mantle of responsibility on for the situation. You might even try to downplay your role, offer a narrative that describes extenuating circumstances. But in the end, they point at you…and you accept it.

Accepting responsibility sounds like it is one of many options.

Taking responsibility is much more aggressive. When you take responsibility, you own it. When you take it, you invest yourself in it. Whatever the outcome, the responsibility is yours. It always has been. No questions asked. You took it.

I think the difference between accepting and taking is important when it focuses on you being responsible for you. People tend to accept responsibility for their actions after they’ve been caught. If you watch enough television you can see the pattern.

1. Accusation.
2. Deny, deny, deny, deny.
3. Proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re guilty.
4. Blame, blame, blame.
5. The hammer is going to fall hard on you.
6. Accept responsibility.

Taking responsibility separates itself from accepting responsibility in one very clear way. The person who takes responsibility will do so for both the decision and consequence.

From beginning to end.
No blaming.
No pointing fingers elsewhere.
I take it.
It’s mine.
Good or bad.
I own it all.

I think we’re all looking for leaders like that.

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