What Is It About Your Leadership?

Blame is the oldest game in town. It was invented by Adam who, after eating of the forbidden fruit, told God, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). In other words, it’s Eve’s fault. (And, by extension, God’s fault.)

picture of a woman looking in the mirror

Not much has changed since Adam’s day. Ask almost anyone why something bad happened and they will point to someone or something else. In my experience, it is exceedingly rare for people to stand up and take responsibility.Last month, we missed our budget. I was disappointed. So was the entire Executive Leadership Team. We had worked so hard to hit our numbers. But, we missed. It happens, right?

A few days later, I was meeting with Ilene, one of our consultants. She asked me, “So, how did July end up?” I admitted that we had missed our budget. She innocently asked, “So why did you miss?”

I then did what most CEOs do in this situation. I blamed the current economic environment. “Well, the market is tough right now,” I explained. “Gas prices are up. So are interest rates. This has taken a bite out of discretionary spending. Consumers are just not frequenting bookstores like we had hoped.” I then went on to cite the U.S. Census Bureau, Publishers Weekly, and other industry publications.

I finished with what I thought was a note of optimism. “We didn’t do what we had hoped, but we’re still ahead of last year.”

She then said, “Okay, I get that the environment is tough. But, let’s be honest, it’s always tough, right?”

“Yes,” I acknowledged, not quite knowing where she was going. Then she dropped a bombshell on my psyche.

“Mike, what is it about your leadership that led to this outcome?”

“Excuse me,” I replied, knowing full well what she had just asked. Nevertheless, she gently repeated the question.

Honestly, I think I was speechless for a full two minutes. “Well, I’m not exactly sure,” I stammered. “That’s a great question, but I don’t know quite what to say.”

Thankfully, she gave me a little help. “As long as the problem is ‘out there,’ Mike, you can’t fix it. You’re just a victim. I’m not trying to shame you. I am trying to empower you. You can’t change your results until you accept full responsibility for them.” I nodded in agreement, still not sure if I liked what I was hearing.

She patiently waited for the weight of her observation to sink in. We then spent the next couple of hours examining my behavior. As it turns out, I was not only making excuses for myself, I was making excuses for my team. I was too easily letting them off the hook. I slowly began to see a direct link between my leadership and our operating results as a Company.

The bad news about taking responsibility is that you can’t blame someone else. It always comes down to your leadership. There is always something else you could have said or done to produce a different result.

But the good news is that once you accept responsibility, you can change the result. Why? Because your behavior as a leader is 100 percent under your control. Changing the result is as simple—or as hard—as changing your behavior.

Imagine how different your family, church, company, or even country could be if everyone took personal responsibility for their outcomes. Perhaps Gandhi was thinking the same thing when he said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

I have continued to ask myself this question over the last several weeks. What is it about my leadership that is producing these results? It’s a powerful—and empowering—question. And, it applies to just about every situation.

So let me ask you, are you happy with the outcomes you are experiencing in your life and work? Where would you like to see change? What have you been blaming on other people or your circumstances. What is it about your leadership that is producing these outcomes?

Until you are willing to ask this question—and face the answers—you will continue to get the same old results.

Question: So what is it about your leadership that has created the results you are experiencing?
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  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/ Lawrence W. Wilson

    Ouch?

    Ilene was right, Mike. Taking responsibilty is empowering. Expecting others to do so empowers them too.

    Tx for the reminder.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com Lawrence W. Wilson

    Ouch?

    Ilene was right, Mike. Taking responsibilty is empowering. Expecting others to do so empowers them too.

    Tx for the reminder.

  • Tim Godby

    I don't like this at all. It hurts. Thank you.

  • Tim Godby

    I don’t like this at all. It hurts. Thank you.

  • http://www.mattmccormick.ca/ Matt

    This is always a tough point to keep in mind as a leader and takes a lot of effort but I believe it is worth it in the long run.

    In your Adam & Eve example I believe Adam did take responsibility – "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and *I ate*" He didn't say "She made me eat the fruit" but that he ate it under his own free-will. The part about "she gave me of the tree" is clearly a fact and not placing any undue blame. Sometimes a leader has to be aware not to take on too much responsibility and cover for other people's actions. On the other hand, sometimes it is called for.

  • http://www.mattmccormick.ca Matt

    This is always a tough point to keep in mind as a leader and takes a lot of effort but I believe it is worth it in the long run.

    In your Adam & Eve example I believe Adam did take responsibility – “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and *I ate*” He didn’t say “She made me eat the fruit” but that he ate it under his own free-will. The part about “she gave me of the tree” is clearly a fact and not placing any undue blame. Sometimes a leader has to be aware not to take on too much responsibility and cover for other people’s actions. On the other hand, sometimes it is called for.

  • http://www.relevantblog.blogspot.com/ Mary E. DeMuth

    I grow the most when I face myself, my limitations, my failures. It's never easy. Sometimes I wish we could grow through our victories, but for me it's never the case.

    So, the happy point is that you're in for some growth, and that's a good thing.

  • http://www.relevantblog.blogspot.com Mary E. DeMuth

    I grow the most when I face myself, my limitations, my failures. It’s never easy. Sometimes I wish we could grow through our victories, but for me it’s never the case.

    So, the happy point is that you’re in for some growth, and that’s a good thing.

  • http://robinlee.typepad.com/ Robin Lee Hatcher

    Another great blog post, Michael. As a full time writer, I'm my own boss. I set my hours, etc. There is no one else to blame but me when things don't get done, but that doesn't mean I don't sometimes try to point at outside factors. But I don't/can't change without facing up to my responsibilities. And you're right. That's empowering. Thanks for the great reminders.

    Robin

  • http://robinlee.typepad.com Robin Lee Hatcher

    Another great blog post, Michael. As a full time writer, I’m my own boss. I set my hours, etc. There is no one else to blame but me when things don’t get done, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes try to point at outside factors. But I don’t/can’t change without facing up to my responsibilities. And you’re right. That’s empowering. Thanks for the great reminders.

    Robin

  • http://oakgrovemedia.typepad.com/ Jay Kelly

    Fantastic stuff. Thanks for your transparency.

  • http://oakgrovemedia.typepad.com Jay Kelly

    Fantastic stuff. Thanks for your transparency.

  • http://www.rachelhauck.com/ Rachel Hauck

    Powerful post, Mike. Like Jay said, thanks for your transparency.

    I'm going off to ponder now….

    Rachel

  • http://www.rachelhauck.com Rachel Hauck

    Powerful post, Mike. Like Jay said, thanks for your transparency.

    I’m going off to ponder now….

    Rachel

  • http://www.larryshallenberger.com/ Larry Shallenberger

    Great, great post. Several years back a business book, THE OZ PRINCIPLE, forced me to learn this truth in the middle of church conflict.

  • http://www.larryshallenberger.com Larry Shallenberger

    Great, great post. Several years back a business book, THE OZ PRINCIPLE, forced me to learn this truth in the middle of church conflict.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net/ Daniel D

    First, who is your "consultant" and can we hire her? :)

    I think the tough questions like these are the questions that many are not asking enough of.

    Cudos to you being the type of leader that engages constructive feedback such as this that makes you and your team better. In most settings if a consultant said the same thing to a CEO he/she would be looking for a new gig.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel D

    First, who is your “consultant” and can we hire her? :)

    I think the tough questions like these are the questions that many are not asking enough of.

    Cudos to you being the type of leader that engages constructive feedback such as this that makes you and your team better. In most settings if a consultant said the same thing to a CEO he/she would be looking for a new gig.

  • http://joeelylean.blogspot.com/ Joe Ely

    Ouch.

    And thank you.

  • http://joeelylean.blogspot.com Joe Ely

    Ouch.

    And thank you.

  • Nithin

    Hi,

    Good Post Plz change the Spelling of Ghandi to Gandhi,

  • Nithin

    Hi,

    Good Post Plz change the Spelling of Ghandi to Gandhi,

  • http://www.colleencoble.com/ Colleen Coble

    Oh what a great post! I've said for a long time that if we would all take responsibility for our actions, the world would be a better place, but I'd never really applied it to results in business. You've given me food for thought. Thanks, Mike!

  • http://www.colleencoble.com Colleen Coble

    Oh what a great post! I’ve said for a long time that if we would all take responsibility for our actions, the world would be a better place, but I’d never really applied it to results in business. You’ve given me food for thought. Thanks, Mike!

  • Mozella Brown

    Lord, please have mercy.

  • Mozella Brown

    Lord, please have mercy.

  • http://www.izzysoffice.com/ Diane Stortz

    Reaping what we sow is often given a negative spin, but it has a positive focus too. I saw a sign in a meeting room recently that said "Focus on results and you won't see change. Focus on change and you will see results." Thanks for the reminder to be willing to examine our actions. We are all leaders, even if we are leading only ourselves.

  • http://www.izzysoffice.com Diane Stortz

    Reaping what we sow is often given a negative spin, but it has a positive focus too. I saw a sign in a meeting room recently that said “Focus on results and you won’t see change. Focus on change and you will see results.” Thanks for the reminder to be willing to examine our actions. We are all leaders, even if we are leading only ourselves.

  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com/ Dennis

    Great post.

    Lately I have had a feeling of being overwhelmed and admit I was looking for someone or something to blame. The Lord used your post as a mirror. I can't say I like what I saw but now I can pray and make changes.

  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com Dennis

    Great post.

    Lately I have had a feeling of being overwhelmed and admit I was looking for someone or something to blame. The Lord used your post as a mirror. I can’t say I like what I saw but now I can pray and make changes.

  • http://biz.blox.pl/ TesTeq

    Just like some Polish managers you should say: "Yes, we've missed the budget, so what? I do not want to hear such comments again."

  • http://biz.blox.pl TesTeq

    Just like some Polish managers you should say: “Yes, we’ve missed the budget, so what? I do not want to hear such comments again.”

  • John

    Wonderful post – if only more people had such a realistic perspective.

  • John

    Wonderful post – if only more people had such a realistic perspective.

  • http://www.joetye.com/ Joe Tye

    One of the paradoxes of leadership is that no one can empower you but you, but you cannot hold yourself accountable (hence the need for people like Ilene). Self-empowerment is the hardest work in the world, and also the best investment. The tool that has helped me most is The Self-Empowerment Pledge found at http://www.Pledge-Power.com. Making those seven simple promises every day is painful and gainful.

  • http://www.joetye.com Joe Tye

    One of the paradoxes of leadership is that no one can empower you but you, but you cannot hold yourself accountable (hence the need for people like Ilene). Self-empowerment is the hardest work in the world, and also the best investment. The tool that has helped me most is The Self-Empowerment Pledge found at http://www.Pledge-Power.com. Making those seven simple promises every day is painful and gainful.

  • Bill

    WOW, I'm leading a very polarized meeting (of leaders) in the morning. Great reminder….Thanks for help!

  • Bill

    WOW, I’m leading a very polarized meeting (of leaders) in the morning. Great reminder….Thanks for help!

  • http://www.metablogs.org/2007/08/30/taking-responsibility/ Business MetaBlog

    Taking responsibility

    Michael Hyatt reminds us to take responsibility for results and not blame things outside our control.

  • http://www.metablogs.org/2007/08/30/taking-responsibility/ Business MetaBlog

    Taking responsibility

    Michael Hyatt reminds us to take responsibility for results and not blame things outside our control.

  • http://christianlovestories.blogspot.com/ Kristy Dykes

    Once again, your post speaks directly to my husband and me. He's a pastor, and we lead a congregation (comparing our congregation to a company for a moment). Now. If we can just get those deacons going the right way! Justtttttttttt kiddingggggggg. They're the best! Like our sweet congregation.

    Thanks so much for your insight, transparency, and wisdom. You make us think deeply. Kristy Dykes

  • http://christianlovestories.blogspot.com Kristy Dykes

    Once again, your post speaks directly to my husband and me. He’s a pastor, and we lead a congregation (comparing our congregation to a company for a moment). Now. If we can just get those deacons going the right way! Justtttttttttt kiddingggggggg. They’re the best! Like our sweet congregation.

    Thanks so much for your insight, transparency, and wisdom. You make us think deeply. Kristy Dykes

  • http://thedoubleu.blogspot.com/ Thom

    Thank you so much for this post. This is good advice. I don't make the big financial decisions, but I can still be critical and ask, "What can I do differently? How can I change and become more responsible for the variables that are under my control?" This one is going to stay with me.

  • http://thedoubleu.blogspot.com Thom

    Thank you so much for this post. This is good advice. I don’t make the big financial decisions, but I can still be critical and ask, “What can I do differently? How can I change and become more responsible for the variables that are under my control?” This one is going to stay with me.

  • Lindsay Terry

    Mike,

    Dr. Lee Roberson said in the 1950s, “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” and John Maxwell said, “Hearing him make that statement changed the course of my life.”

    I read your blog with great interest. It could be that you were needlessly being hard on yourself.

    You said, “Changing the result is as simple—or as hard—as changing your behavior.” Do you really know for sure that July would have been a great success if you had been a different kind of leader? If so, then you are right in questioning your leadership.

    Yet, failure is not always a lack of leadership. Occasionally when we do our dead level best we still fail. Many times there ARE exterior circumstances over which we have little or no control. We are human — all of the time. Yet, I don’t think we can take refuge in that when we fail.

    You surely must be a tremendous leader and it is apparent that you are always striving to be better. Thanks for the thought-provoking, timely blog.

    Lindsay Terry

  • Lindsay Terry

    Mike,

    Dr. Lee Roberson said in the 1950s, “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” and John Maxwell said, “Hearing him make that statement changed the course of my life.”

    I read your blog with great interest. It could be that you were needlessly being hard on yourself.

    You said, “Changing the result is as simple—or as hard—as changing your behavior.” Do you really know for sure that July would have been a great success if you had been a different kind of leader? If so, then you are right in questioning your leadership.

    Yet, failure is not always a lack of leadership. Occasionally when we do our dead level best we still fail. Many times there ARE exterior circumstances over which we have little or no control. We are human — all of the time. Yet, I don’t think we can take refuge in that when we fail.

    You surely must be a tremendous leader and it is apparent that you are always striving to be better. Thanks for the thought-provoking, timely blog.

    Lindsay Terry

  • Gregg Stutts

    Thanks, Mike, for a great post. I admire and appreciate your transparency and humility. This will prompt me to take a good, hard look at myself.

  • Gregg Stutts

    Thanks, Mike, for a great post. I admire and appreciate your transparency and humility. This will prompt me to take a good, hard look at myself.

  • Craig Gorc

    You're a good brother, Mike.

  • Craig Gorc

    You’re a good brother, Mike.

  • Bill

    Mike,
    Ok….I'm all about the 'The Buck Stops Here" philosophy. I have my own business, and, as you well know, there's no one to blame in small business but yourself. But I would like to push back on your posting on two points. First, I know you. I worked for you for several years. And for your consultant to allow you to conclude that you don't take responsibility for your business is, well, humorous to me. I always knew you as a guy that was realistic in his outlook. And, frankly, there are times where things are out of your control (albeit, I doubt gas prices are keeping people from buying your books). There are real issues that are affecting your business, and it is certainly your team's responsibility to figure that out (i.e.-staying up with technology, which you do personally so well). But this leads to my second, point…. I was a bit bothered by your statement "I was letting them off the hook" (referring to your staff). That statement implied to me that you have not been diligent enough to hold your team accountable. Or (worse) that you had not been direct enough in holding them accountable. Well, once again, I would say this…..I used to sit in the monthly Business Review Meetings with you, representing a division that was having a tough time. I never felt you weren't holding me accountable for my division's poor business. Quite the opposite.

    I share all this to remind you of something. One of the reasons you're the leader of Thomas Nelson today is because of your managment style. You're fair and levelheaded. Reasonable. PUH-LEEZE don't start listening to consultants who are trying to turn you into every other executive in the publishing world. Yes, your business may be down right now from where you've projected (which leads me to questions, "Are Intermedia's expectations too high?" and "Can your team not say 'no' to those expectations?". But in the long run, your collaborative management style works. People WANT to work for you, and they WANT to do a good job for you. I THINK POSITIVE EMPLOYEE MORALE (WHICH YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE FOSTERS) WILL SOLVE MORE OF YOUR REVENUE PROBLEMS IN THE LONG RUN THAN CHANGING HOW YOU MANAGE YOUR PEOPLE IN THE SHORT TERM. Please don't loose focus of that. And please don't let a business cycle or an industry shift cause you to change who you are.

    When I left TNI, one of the hardest parts of the decision was leaving your management. While I didn't always agree with you, I always trusted you.

  • Bill

    Mike,
    Ok….I’m all about the ‘The Buck Stops Here” philosophy. I have my own business, and, as you well know, there’s no one to blame in small business but yourself. But I would like to push back on your posting on two points. First, I know you. I worked for you for several years. And for your consultant to allow you to conclude that you don’t take responsibility for your business is, well, humorous to me. I always knew you as a guy that was realistic in his outlook. And, frankly, there are times where things are out of your control (albeit, I doubt gas prices are keeping people from buying your books). There are real issues that are affecting your business, and it is certainly your team’s responsibility to figure that out (i.e.-staying up with technology, which you do personally so well). But this leads to my second, point…. I was a bit bothered by your statement “I was letting them off the hook” (referring to your staff). That statement implied to me that you have not been diligent enough to hold your team accountable. Or (worse) that you had not been direct enough in holding them accountable. Well, once again, I would say this…..I used to sit in the monthly Business Review Meetings with you, representing a division that was having a tough time. I never felt you weren’t holding me accountable for my division’s poor business. Quite the opposite.

    I share all this to remind you of something. One of the reasons you’re the leader of Thomas Nelson today is because of your managment style. You’re fair and levelheaded. Reasonable. PUH-LEEZE don’t start listening to consultants who are trying to turn you into every other executive in the publishing world. Yes, your business may be down right now from where you’ve projected (which leads me to questions, “Are Intermedia’s expectations too high?” and “Can your team not say ‘no’ to those expectations?”. But in the long run, your collaborative management style works. People WANT to work for you, and they WANT to do a good job for you. I THINK POSITIVE EMPLOYEE MORALE (WHICH YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE FOSTERS) WILL SOLVE MORE OF YOUR REVENUE PROBLEMS IN THE LONG RUN THAN CHANGING HOW YOU MANAGE YOUR PEOPLE IN THE SHORT TERM. Please don’t loose focus of that. And please don’t let a business cycle or an industry shift cause you to change who you are.

    When I left TNI, one of the hardest parts of the decision was leaving your management. While I didn’t always agree with you, I always trusted you.

  • http://www.logon.ie/internet-marketing-blog/ Alastair

    Fantastic post, and a great reply from one of your former staff just now – just as important I think.

  • http://www.logon.ie/internet-marketing-blog/ Alastair

    Fantastic post, and a great reply from one of your former staff just now – just as important I think.

  • Fazl Siddiqui

    Interesting article at a time when I have been researching on the subject of Accountability to be included in the leadership 'values' or 'competencie'. I think the term accountability has a negative connotation to it and I would like to call it "Ownership" instead. However, can suggest any reading that would highlight leaders ownership for actions related to operations, financial, and people that I can include in my definition of the term for my proposal on leaders values/competencies.

  • Fazl Siddiqui

    Interesting article at a time when I have been researching on the subject of Accountability to be included in the leadership ‘values’ or ‘competencie’. I think the term accountability has a negative connotation to it and I would like to call it “Ownership” instead. However, can suggest any reading that would highlight leaders ownership for actions related to operations, financial, and people that I can include in my definition of the term for my proposal on leaders values/competencies.

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  • http://www.shyjumathew.com/ Shyju

    wow mic! Exceptionally good one!

  • http://www.shyjumathew.com/ Shyju

    wow mic! Exceptionally good one!

  • http://www.leadershiplessonsfromthebook.com/ Bill Bliss

    I just saw this post, even though it has been up for two years. I recently attended a conference where Horst Schultz, the co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, spoke on leadership. He said that one of the ways we could distinguish between a leader and a manager was that a leader did not offer excuses but a manager did. A leader will determine solutions. This is very much in line with your post of two years ago. As leaders, we absolutely can control our circumstances and get our teams prepared to face those circumstances.

    Well done, Mike.

  • http://www.leadershiplessonsfromthebook.com Bill Bliss

    I just saw this post, even though it has been up for two years. I recently attended a conference where Horst Schultz, the co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, spoke on leadership. He said that one of the ways we could distinguish between a leader and a manager was that a leader did not offer excuses but a manager did. A leader will determine solutions. This is very much in line with your post of two years ago. As leaders, we absolutely can control our circumstances and get our teams prepared to face those circumstances.

    Well done, Mike.

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