Leadership, Crisis, and the Theft of Responsibility

Jack believed he was a responsible leader. He felt deeply the responsibility that rested on his shoulders. He wanted to make sure that no matter what happened on his shift, he would be there to make it right. When the economy tanked, he went into top gear. He increased his control over projects and his people. He attempted to double and triple check everything to make sure no one “fell down on the job.” He began spending more time at the office and taking more work home.

Increasingly of late though, Jack seemed to become more irritable. Co-workers who had labored so well with him in the past, now became distant, almost curt.  As things went from bad to worse in the industry, his response was to attempt to gain more control of how things were going, requiring more reports and longer hours from everyone. In turn, people became more frustrated with “the new Jack” and his increasingly autocratic ways.  He grew shorter and shorter with others, especially family. After a while it was clear that the effectiveness and productivity of his department were eroding and miscommunication happened more and more often. 

Jack’s understanding of a leader’s role was sadly deficient. His problem was not so much that he didn’t know the values of delegating authority or getting along with others. What was happening was that his own insecurities were driving him to steal responsibility from his people. 

It is natural for leaders to respond to crisis by attempting more control. After all, in times of crisis people look to leaders for answers. However, true leadership mobilizes people to meet the challenges of a situation, drawing forth the necessary answers from followers. 

The greater the number of people trying to fix the problem, albeit in an organized manner, the greater the likelihood of someone coming up with the right answers. Leadership is always about a collaboration of leader and follower. Thus crises are best met by the group, not the leader alone.


4 thoughts on “Leadership, Crisis, and the Theft of Responsibility

  1. This is such a paradox- to let go of control, and give it to others in order to succeed. Especially when we as leaders feel insecure, over our heads, etc. — that’s usualy when we dig more in and make things much worse by trying ever harder to maintain control of our environment, as your example with Jack shows. So typical of us! Sometimes, when we are so deep in it, and too close to it, we need someone to help us get out of the woods and realize that we can’t do it all on our own. And that everyhing will be ok.

    1. Brad, I think there is such a strong paralell to this and to our spiritual condition, wouldn’t you agree? We come to know we are in crisis and our response is to work harder and take more control. It takes someone who cares for us to give some balanced perspective and remind us that life is a partnership with Someone Who cares about us and about our work.

  2. I can honestly say that I was this example in my previous organization. The only difference was that I realized I needed help, and asked for it, but there was no help available. Everyone was at the same point, and no one could help anyone else. It was, in my opinion, one of the main reasons that they have lost about 900 people in the last 8-10 months. Another well done article, and hopefully it will get people thinking!

    1. I’ve been there too, Christopher. Eventually the dept, company or church becomes so “silo-ed” with everyone working on their own slice of the organization there is no time to help anyone else, synergy is lost, communication becomes non-existent, and everything goes downhill quickly. Not a pretty sight.

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