Leadership Is About Personal Responsibility And Action

Forgive me, I’m on a bit of a rant.  Those who have followed me for some time know I get off on tangents, sometimes writing these articles to deal with frustration and sort out my own thinking.

In this specific article, I also have to recognize, I will probably hurt the feelings of a well-intended follower–but frankly, I don’t really care.  I am not targeting that individual.

(Doesn’t an opening paragraph of apologies and disclaimers make you really curious?)

This morning I got an email from a very well-intended follower.   It was titled, “A Word Of Caution.”  The text read, “Hi Dave-You might want to be careful that the work of others you are retweeting is not plagiarized.”

Now this isn’t an article about plagiarism.  Plagiarists are bottom feeding scum, often pretending to be thought leaders, guru’s, and experts–but with not a thought of their own.  Dozens of my articles and hundreds from people I respect have and will be plagiarized.  It sucks and we do everything we can to call them out and stop them.  Not only to protect our own IP, but to protect people who may be following or thinking of doing business with these slimes.  (Not that I feel strongly about this issue.)

But this article is on something different–let me go on with the story.

Upon receiving the email, I was concerned.  I certainly don’t want to mislead my followers or promote the work of a bottom feeding scumbag.  So I replied, “Is there a specific article or tweet you are referring to?  Thanks for letting me know!”  ( By the way, I read every article I tweet, so I must have thought the article was really good, which makes my tweet even more concerning.)

I wanted to know who the offender was, at least stop following that individual, apologize for misleading my own followers, and if it was real plagiarism, possibly call the person out and let the original author know about the incident.

The response, “Dave, I am not the trust police and do not want to name any names…..”  This well intended individual went on to discuss the problem of plagiarism, in general and how bad the practice is for both the owners of the IP and unsuspecting people who are deceived by the plagiarist.

But the individual would go no further.

I feel terrible about this.  I still don’t know which tweet of mine was of the plagiarists, perhaps I should declare any tweet of mine you see published on August 6, 2015 before 7:17 am PDT, is suspect and issue a mass apology.

However, the core issue about this interchange has nothing to do with plagiarism, but is really a lapse of personal responsibility and leadership.  This isn’t what leadership is about–thought leadership, personal leadership, or leadership within an organization or community.

Seeing a wrong, not having the personal courage to take action–even a small one is, in the least, a lost opportunity to help improve things.

Without being melodramatic, the history of the world is littered with tragedies, large and small, where people recognized a wrong, whispered to friends, families, and neighbors about the wrong, but chose to sit on the sidelines.

Leadership at any level is recognizing something is wrong or may not be achieving the intended results — and doing something about it.  It may be that we have mistreated a customer and we need to fix it.  It may be some programs we are implementing are causing problems and addressing it.  It may be a misguided strategy that needs to be shifted.

As a leader, I’ve had more than my share of well-intended initiatives, strategies, programs that have been wrong.  Fortunately, I’ve had teams of strong leaders and individual contributors who’ve had the courage to say, “Dave, I think you may have made a mistake….”

Recognizing something is wrong and not taking action is a lost opportunity.  But more divisive and destructive is the undercurrent of water cooler whispers, backroom discussions, behind the back lobbying, or private emails.  Rather than helping correct a situation, build the organization/community, it’s only purpose is to create doubt, lack of confidence, and destroy the organization.  Initiating and nurturing these behind the back disagreements is an act of personal cowardice.

It helps no one in the organization or in our communities to be whispering to each other about the problems, some sort of wrong doing, or something more egregious.  Most of the time, these things aren’t earthshaking or moral/ethical dilemmas.  They are about accomplishing things, doing the right thing, recognizing when we are off base.  But we can’t if we don’t know.  We, both leaders and the people we lead lose if it is just behind the scenes whispers and conversations.

Leaders don’t do this.  They may not agree, but they at least let people know where they stand, and seek to resolve problems.  Leaders will be in your face, not lurking in the background.  Leaders do not sit on the sidelines.

As I wrap this up, I’ve done something I don’t like and may have hurt, in a small way others.  I don’t know what to do about it and the person who can help me has elected not to demonstrate any leadership.  In the end, I’ve actually taken two giant steps backwards–not purposefully.  I’m in a worse spot than if I never knew.

To that follower, who I know reads this blog.  I know you are better than you demonstrated in this interchange.  You owe it to yourself and your own community to exercise better leadership.  I hope (and expect) this is a momentary lapse.

This post was first published on Partners in Excellence Blog.

Photo Credit: tetukoarjuna Flickr via Compfight cc