There are times when the leader knows that he must shoulder an undeserved blame

Genuine leadership demands a sense, not of glamour, but of responsibility. The true leader is concerned not so much with the opinions of others as with the truth, with getting a job done, and with inspiring others to join him in working toward a common goal.

This concern implies a willingness to assume the responsibility not merely for success, but also for failure; a willingness to take the risks, instead of waiting for others to take it, thereby absolving oneself of any blame.

Most people are happy enough to take the credit for being right, but few are willing to take the blame for being wrong. The genuine leader is equally indifferent to praise and blame.

There are times when the leader knows that he must shoulder an undeserved blame — perhaps because others wouldn’t be able to bear the weight of it, or simply to see an issue dropped as soon as possible.

No place for personal feelings

One learns in the role of leadership that the only way to get a job done is to get people to act and not react, as they tend to do, especially when they are blamed.

In this sense, a leader must be like a good athlete. A skier, for example, doesn’t have time to think whether he likes a particular rough spot on the slope. His one thought is, “What shall I do about it?”

A captain on the battlefield can’t afford to waste time thinking, “If only the enemy would stop shooting at us!” He can't change that, so, why lament it? His urgent need is to find ways for his men to avoid getting hit, while attacking with the greatest effectiveness.

A businessman trying to win a contract knows that it can be fatal to react too personally to his opponents. No one will be impressed with him if he bases his bid, for example, on a show of resentment of the competition.

I remember receiving a letter one evening years ago that threatened disaster for a project I’d been working on for many years. Well-wishers, seeing the shock on my face, urged me consolingly, “Come out with us for a cup of tea. It will make you feel better.”

“What do you mean?” I replied. “Who cares how I feel about this letter? All that matters is what to do about it!”

My hands were unsteady as I drove home that evening. The unsteadiness wasn't due to fear. My concentration was centred in the thought, “There has to be an answer: What is it?” The crisis, was overcome, though with only hours to spare. I doubt that it would have been met successfully if even a small part of my energy had been wasted on how I felt in the matter.

Effective, yet, compassionate

Leadership doesn’t have to be unfeeling. The best leadership, indeed, is rooted in compassion, and in deep concern for the welfare of others.

But to be most effective it must be liberated from personal likes and dislikes. One’s feelings — and even more important, one’s intuitions — will actually be clearer and deeper for being impersonal.

Equally important is it for a leader’s actions to be self-generated, and not merely reflective of the actions of others. He cannot afford to be drawn into other people’s definitions of the problems he confronts. In this sense, too, creative action is infinitely more important than blind reaction. It implies complete, personal acceptance of the responsibility for getting a job done.

The mediocre general may exclaim, “According to all the recognised treatises on warfare, our situation is hopeless. What choice do we have but to surrender?” But the great general will say, “The recognised treatises offer no hope. Let us, therefore, create new guidelines!”

Thus was the Battle of Waterloo won and, the Battle of Hastings and . And thus, again, the American Revolution — which introduced unorthodox tactics borrowed from the American Indians.

Remember, then — leadership doesn’t mean glamour; it means responsibility. And responsibility means thinking in terms, not of credit or blame, nor of how one might feel in any given situation; it means focusing simply on getting the job done. It means taking responsibility for finding creative answers, even when one has every excuse for finding none.

(The author is a spiritual teacher and founded Ananda World Brotherhood Community in 1968.)

(This article was published on September 20, 2012)
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