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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"The buck stops here."  --  Pres. Harry S. Truman

With those four words, Pres. Truman defined the essence of leadership.  A leader is the one who takes final responsibility for the actions of all of those who are within the boundaries of his/her leadership.  The weakness of a leader is measured by their need to blame others, their need to find scapegoats.

Prior to D-Day, General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote two letters.  One was to be released if the invasion was successful; the other if the invasion failed.  In the second letter, he took full responsibility for the failure.

Moses was such a leader.  He took responsibility for those who followed him.  He defended those who were loyal to him against the wrath of God.  His leadership is exemplified in the events of the "golden calf".  He was not even present at the time.  Nevertheless, he took full responsibility.  When God threatened to destroy the people, Moses argued for redemption and replied, "Yet now, if you will forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I beg you, from your book which you have written."  Moses chose his own obliteration, rather than that of the people.

Another characteristic of a great leader is his/her ability to bring ordinary people together to achieve extraordinary results.  In a single generation, Moses transformed a group of former slaves into a mighty nation.  The most remarkable event occurred at the shores of the Jordan, before the invasion and creation of a nation.  The people realized they could achieve their goal without Moses.  They were empowered.  This is the greatest achievement of a great leader.

A leader cannot be expected to be right all of the time.  They will make mistakes.  However, they are responsible for the actions of all within their leadership.  If a leader chooses to blame others for their shortcomings, they are publically admitting that they are not a leader.  One of my favorite management cartoons shows a furious boss shouting at an employee.  The caption reads, "What have you done to me?  You did exactly what I told you to do."

True leadership depends on mutual trust and loyalty.  When subordinates are exposed to their leader's blame and denial of responsibility, the consequences can be disastrous.  If those who work under his/her leadership know that they are liable to become scapegoats, they will devote their time to protecting themselves.  The result is loss of credibility, distrust, chaos and failure.

Leadership is not just in the domain of the "high and the mighty".  All of us are called upon to be leaders at sometime in our lives, as parents, members of our community or on our jobs.  The same rules apply. 

At the level of family, consider the story of Cain and Abel.  Cain blamed Abel, his younger brother, for his own shortcoming of not bringing the best of his crop to God.  The result was the murder of his own brother, and his separation from God.

The path to empowerment begins when we take leadership for ourselves, when we stop blaming others for our mistakes and shortcomings.  When we strive to confront our mistakes and shortcomings and take responsibility for them, then we will be becoming our own leader. 

Every person has the capacity to be a leader of themselves. We can find inspiration from those among us who have sustained serious injury in our wars.  Those who accept the responsibility for their decisions and struggle to go on with their lives with honor, courage and dignity.

In conclusion, let's turn to William Ernest Henley's inspiring poem, "Invictus".

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

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