By definition, a leader is someone who is out in front, who takes personal risks to get others to do something they wouldn’t necessarily want or think to do themselves. Responsibility is therefore the very essence of leadership. If you want to test your own leadership propensity, watch how often you yourself take the lead, willingly go out in front and say, “It’s okay, everyone. I’ll do it.” Or simply, “I know what to do, or where to go. Follow me.”

There are two aspects to responsibility. The first is responsibility itself, the willingness to take on a task or other burden for the benefit of others. The other aspect, and perhaps even more critical, is that of accountability. The word responsibility contains the root ‘response.’ In other words, someone who is responsible is someone who is answerable for his or her decisions and actions. This is compounded when you take on the responsibilities of a leader by the fact that the leader becomes answerable not just for him- or herself, but also for the decisions and actions of others. That is what separates true leaders from people who just claim to be leading.

The willingness to seek and accept responsibility therefore boils down to a willingness to decide on behalf of the group, or society, or an organization or team, to make plans, give direction, to act accordingly. To answer for all of that, to give account of it. Finally, we can see that leadership is therefore a profoundly ethical practice.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

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