the shape of leadership

Leadership Is Ownership

Taking responsibility when things go wrong

Kent Ingle on February 25, 2019

Sometimes frustrating things happen. A staff member makes a bad decision. An obligation falls through the cracks. Someone doesn’t follow through on an important commitment. You find yourself scrambling to put out fires and mitigate the damage.

This isn’t the way you thought it would be when you enthusiastically answered the call to ministry. As leaders, it can make us ask along with the Psalmist, “What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch?” (Psalm 73:11, The Message).

Here’s the deal: It is inevitable that things will go wrong. It’s what you — as the leader — do next that really matters. Do you point the finger and blame others? Or do you choose to own the situation and circumstance by doing something about it?

A true leader will take the challenging circumstance and turn it into an opportunity for growth, learning and success.

Every leader faces difficulties. Here are some important things effective leaders do that allow them to make it through to the other side:

  • Take the good along with the bad.
  • Act — even when they didn’t see it coming.
  • Own the outcome, regardless of whether they directly participated in creating it.
  • Look for ways to turn difficult circumstances into outstanding opportunities.
  • Seek God’s wisdom, and trust His guidance.

Life happens. It’s what you do next that could change everything. That’s what will demonstrate to your team and others what ownership means. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.”

Stop trying to cover yourself, and start owning the situation. As Christ followers, we have the grace of God to help us bounce back from setbacks and mistakes. Sure, there are consequences for failure, but the grace of God allows us to move forward from those failures.

Anyone who tells me they haven’t failed is either disingenuous or hasn’t yet carried any actual responsibility. That person is either untrustworthy or inexperienced. I know that probably sounds harsh. But the reality is, leadership isn’t easy. There will be struggles and failures.

Leadership often involves going somewhere you’ve never been before, which means assuming a certain degree of risk. It demands dedication, commitment and responsibility for yourself and others. And it requires perseverance through the good and the bad.

Jesus is the only perfect leader. For the rest of us, failure is part of the job. Sometimes, you cause the failure. Other times, someone else on your team creates a difficult situation, and you must find a remedy. Nevertheless, a true leader will take the challenging circumstance and turn it into an opportunity for growth, learning and success.

The best leaders we’ve had were not free of failure or bad decisions. None of them had a team that never made a mistake. Instead, those leaders took the heat that should have been ours. They showed us how to navigate challenges with grace and faith. And they managed to lean in to the problems we wanted to ignore, working toward solutions on our behalf.

Those leaders are no less human. What makes them great leaders is their fundamental belief that just because it isn’t their fault doesn’t mean it isn’t their responsibility. That’s what ownership is all about — taking responsibility even when it is tough. Leadership is ownership.

As leaders, we don’t have to be perfect. But Scripture does call us to do our best (2 Timothy 2:15). That means stepping up to the work God has given us to do, in good and bad times.


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