Great Leaders Take the Blame and Give the Credit

I am the youngest member of my family. My brother, Joe, is more than four years older than I am. That definitely gave hime the advantage when he was seventeen and I was only thirteen. However, in recent years I've enjoyed pointing out to him that he is in his forties, and I'm still a young thirty-something. 

My sister, Dena, is thirteen months older than I am. Due to school cut-off dates, she had the distinct privilege of going through school with her little brother in the same grade and class all the way through our senior year. Pretty lucky, huh?

Those of us who are the "babies" of the family share a little lie. We claim that anytime something happened in the family, it was the oldest child who thought of it, the middle child who did it, and the youngest child who was blamed. That's right - I was the victim of the cruelty of my big brother and big sister. 

The truth is, however, that I initiated and executed much of the wrongdoing without any help. It didn't require someone else to think it up for me. there was plenty of blame that rightfully belonged to me as I dreamed up new ways to test my boundaries and stretch the rules.

Taking the blame may be a misnomer about the youngest kids in the house, but it is the privilege of leadership. You get to say, "I'm sorry it happened that way" or "I apologize that you were offended by us" even when you were not personally involved in the offense. 

The fastest way to reduce the size of your team is to abandon it when a mistake is made. If you allow a volunteer to look bad while you remain removed or uninvolved, it can mean only one thing: you are insecure. You lack confidence and maturity, and your leadership days are numbered. People will not follow for long if they think their leader is looking out only for his or her own interests.

When a volunteer says that something is inappropriate or unkind, address it with the individual privately, but take the blame publicly. When a volunteer messes up and overspends the budget by $500, work with the person privately to make sure it won't happen again, but take the blame publicly. When your technical volunteers miss an audio cue or turn the lights on at the wrong time, do more training privately, but take the blame publicly.

Of course, there are limits to this principle. If people continue to mess up, they may need to be removed from your team. Even so, you can still shield their character while finding other places for them to serve. When the issue is sin rather than human error, however, you must deal with it quickly and let the blame fall on the individuals. As part of their healing and restoration, they will need to feel the consequences of their actions.

Just as you should take the blame for mistakes, you should also give away credit for your successes. Take every opportunity to spotlight people on your team who are contributing to the ministry. Anytime you are given credit publicly or thanked for your leadership, always use that opportunity to deflect the glory to God and the thanks to your team. 

If this is hard for you and you struggle with insecurity, then just push through it. The only way to become more secure in your leadership is to develop the disciplines and habits of a secure leader. 

So start practicing. Take the blame and give the credit. It might never feel natural, but it will feel right and will increase others' respect of your leadership.

This post is an excerpt from Chapter 22 of my book "Simply Strategic Volunteers."

Tim StevensComment