If there’s one universal law of leadership, it’s “everything is your fault.”

The One, Universal, Indispensable Law of Leadership

If you’ve read my introductory story, you’ll know that my writing is focused on helping Cause Organizations develop and thrive with a strong leadership culture. Despite all the hard work, energy, and passions people put behind this important work, they often go through cycle after cycle of growth and collapse. It’s my hope to give activists and organizers the tools they need to break that cycle.

Say it with me: Everything. Is. Your. Fault.

It’s an old chestnut that has been rattling around for over a century at least. Nevertheless, there’s nothing tired or trite about it. It just may be that you’ve never had it presented quite the way I’m going to show you.

It’s not simply “the buck stops here.”

Conventional wisdom says you take the blame for what goes wrong (and pass on the credit for what goes right). That’s exceptionally good advice. Accountability is indeed a critical leadership trait. People respect a leader who “takes it on the chin.” But it’s a lot more than that.

Turning blame into humility and empathy

Imagine an initiative your organization was championing failed. I mean completely bombed. And the person you put in charge of it is sitting in the middle of the smoking crater of the aftermath. They plainly failed to deliver, and you expect them to take the hit.

  • Did I give them more than they were able to handle?
  • Were the expectations clear or reasonable to begin with?
  • Did I give them the support and back-up that they needed?
  • Did I give them a chance to signal a problem and ask for help?
  • Was I paying attention enough to see this coming?

Build leaders by modeling leadership

Internalizing this process is a huge first step. But to make it a part of leadership culture in your organization, you need to model it for your team. When things go wrong, your after-action or lessons learned meetings should begin with you explaining your approach. It should sound like this:

Most importantly, John will probably be willing to go out on a limb to do something challenging and unfamiliar in the future to support a cause and an organization he believes in, complete with new skills at his disposal and better support at his back. And that’s solid gold for a Cause Organization.

Budding Arizona Democratic political operative.

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