Who is Responsible for Leadership?

By Shae Hadden

Today—as I do every day after watching the news—I am pondering this question: will we continue to wait for a great leader or will we be responsible for bringing leadership into existence? With world leaders making decisions that are at odds with the people they are supposedly representing, the issues of responsibility and leadership are at the forefront of my thinking.

Whether we’re talking about the problems in our organizations, our local communities or the world, the conversation seems to revolve around two themes: having someone to blame (a culprit) and having someone who will lead us from our problems toward a solution in the future (a hero). What if leadership was an expression of each individual’s responsibility for creating the future, instead of being a solution to a problem?

Responsibility is not about who we can blame, who caused what, or what powers have been legislated upon certain individuals. Responsibility is about ‘owning’ things the way they are and being free to act: it is about being ‘able to respond’ (response-ability) to circumstances. If leadership is missing from our current circumstances, if we choose to wait for someone else to assume responsibility for the situations we find ourselves in, then we will wait and watch in vain, replaying the past and continuing with the status quo.
The future is always a product of the actions we take in the present. It’s not a problem to be solved. It isn’t waiting for us to arrive. It’s a possibility we create. It is the result of the individual and collective actions we take today. What we sometimes are blind to is that our commitments drive our actions. So if we are committed to what is reasonable and feasible (based on our past), then we will end up with what we fear the most (‘more of the same’).

What if we were all committed to being unreasonable? What if we stopped blaming everyone and everything else—from politicians and the media to the system or our workloads—for what we consider to be negative in our current situation? What if we chose to be responsible for creating leadership in our own lives?

I don’t believe leaders are special people with some innate capacity that allows them to be leaders. Leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary commitments. They do not have to have specially legislated powers, position or authority to make a difference: think of Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King taking a stand for what they considered to be right. Their actions were unreasonable—they went against common sense and conventional wisdom. They were simply human beings who were choosing to be responsible for their situation. They moved forward with a deep sense of trust in their vision, profound caring, and a willingness to risk whatever was necessary to make a difference. And they inspired others to commit to the same vision and empowered them as individuals to take action in alignment with the possible future they saw.

Leadership can be a solution to many of our problems, but only if each of us commits to making a difference and to being responsible as leaders to empower those who follow. When we commit to being unreasonable, to creating a culture of leadership and enrolling others in a vision of a world that works for everyone, we generate the possibility of working together to transform our circumstances from ‘problems’ into a future worthy of who we are and what we stand for. When we as global citizens choose to be responsible for leadership, we can, as Gandhi so aptly said, “be the change we want to see”….

The choice is yours and mine to make: be victims of our circumstances or be responsible for creating the future we want.

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible—and achieve it, generation after generation.
Pearl S. Buck