The public examples we see are too often less-than-humble leaders who make public excuses for bad situations. The reaction of many federal government personnel after recent high-profile scandals and questionable decisions are examples, but this situation crosses political lines and presidential administrations, and it is not solely a government problem. Very often these same leaders also take public credit for good situations, but they can’t have it both ways. Leaders are accountable for the good and the bad. Unfortunately, we don’t typically see leaders taking full responsibility for bad situations while avoiding credit when things go right, attributes associated with genuine humility and personal accountability.
We have to do a better job of teaching this quality. Military leadership training often focuses on war heroes and leadership in combat. These are wonderful examples, but sailors need to lead in everyday situations, not in the heat of battle. They will face great personal triumph and defeat in relatively passive situations; they will be held responsible for the actions of their sailors they could have never imagined; they will be tested in ways most civilians would not believe.
What sailors need are more authentic examples of humble leaders who take responsibility for failure and refuse credit for success. We have leaders like this throughout the Fleet, but they are seldom rewarded sufficiently and are not adequately held up as examples. Instead our focus is too often on making examples of poor leaders and followers by publically condemning their mistakes yet not holding their seniors accountable.
It’s the positive leadership examples we need to see in the press and that leadership courses should highlight. This will help eliminate the need to teach future leaders that, while they can delegate authority when appropriate, they can never delegate accountability. We need to act with an honest belief that leaders must willingly accept and embrace this concept to truly lead.
Our actions must portray a sincere dedication to the goal of ultimate accountability among our leaders. We have to enable them to fix problems and not accept their attempts to fix blame.