Tag Archive: responsibility

Doing the Scary Things of Leadership

Growing up in Tucson, we had an alley behind our house. On one side of the alley there was a cement wash for flood waters. On the other side, wooden fences to houses. During the day, this was a great area to play in. We’d ride bikes in the cement wash (even though we were told not to because of flooding [our parents forgot we lived in the desert]).

But in the alley was also our trash can. It was located about 100 feet down as we shared a big trash can with several neighbors. One of my chores was taking out the trash. I’d have to pack it up, drag it through our gravel back yard, and dispense in the alley’s trash can. This task was fine during the day, but at night, it was a long and scary 100 foot walk. And since I procrastinated, this was often a chore done in the dark.

I’d walk as calmly as possible lugging the trash bag over my shoulder while telling myself no one was out there to get me. But as soon as I heaved the trash bag in the can, fearing there might be someone out to get me, I’d sprint back to the house, sliding through the gate, and tossing gravel in multiple directions. Inside our fence, I’d always feel safe (except the times my Dad thought it was funny to hide just inside the fence to scare me).

So with that history, when my wife told me this week someone was outside our door, on the side of our house, in our trash can area I was a little alarmed. My first response was to be the “man of the house” and check it out. But then I thought, why would someone be in our trash? Why would they be that close to my house, my doors? It was unsettling to think about the person, who under dark’s cover, would be so close to my house.

Although reticent, acting brave, I said to my wife “I’ll check it out” (just like the walk down the alley in my childhood, I feigned bravery).

So in my pajama pants, out into the rain drizzle I went as my wife peered through the window blinds. Speaking loudly the universal accepted warning to intruders, I proclaimed, “I’ve called the Police and I’m armed with a baseball bat!”

I’ll leave what happened next for another blog, but I write all this to say: leaders don’t shy away from bad, hard, or scary work.

It’s our job to go out first. If something needs to be discovered, we need to discover it. If you’ve been given the role of a leader, go outside your office, and investigate the hard things. In a church setting, there’s so much at stake. And ignoring the possibility of dangerous things can literally have eternal consequences.

So whether you feign bravery, or even sprint back to safety after your discovery in the dark, check it out. Don’t send others to do your role as a leader (in my case, my wife is faster than me, so I did consider sending her to check out the trash can area).

Leaders lead.

Leaders check out the trash can in the darkness.

What’s the scary trash can for you? The hard conversation with someone on your team who’s not treating people kindly? The larger donor to the church who dictates how the church is run? The friend who is flirting with dangerous sins? Facing the reality that your church’s strategies aren’t working? A staff member who’s theology is wavering?

Even if you have to feign bravery, take the walk to your “trash can.”

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Abdicating Responsibility Is Not A Leadership Luxury

If you’re a leader, at some point you’ve probably shared ownership of your team’s successes. But being a good leader sometimes requires you to own their mistakes, too.

It’s this idea of owning it. All of it. It’s personal responsibility, and it’s also a responsibility toward those you lead.

A staff that has the value of “owning it” doesn’t pass along criticism. It doesn’t point the finger or say “that’s not my responsibility”.


Owning It is part 3 of 4 on staff values. Click on the values Information Sharing and Saying the Last 2% to read.


Like most people, I don’t like dealing with any customer service person (restaurant server, home improvement guy, or the help center phone agent at your preferred cellular company) who says something like this when you’re trying to get help:

“Well, that’s actually not my area, it’s their area…”

They point the finger, assign blame, or do whatever it takes to push responsibility elsewhere. They abdicate responsibility.

Minsters aren’t traditionally considered customer service representatives, but many times we function in that role. And I’m pretty sure church-goers don’t like it when their ministers avoid responsibility.

It happened to me this past Sunday. I was walking through our church’s atrium at 8 a.m., and one of our volunteer greeters at the welcome desk waved me over. She said, “I know it’s not your area, but I don’t know who to tell… We’ve had ants at the welcome desk for a couple weeks. I told a facilities person about it, but the ants are still here.”

I had several options at that point. I could:

A. Tell her where I’m at on our org chart, and let her know I’m not the ant guy;

B. Feign an allergic reaction to ants;

C. Provide her the email address of the senior leader who oversees the hospitality team, and ask her to report it through the correct department;

D. Tell her to look for the facility guys with the blue shirt and radios, and ask them for help;

E. Say “I’m sorry it didn’t get taken care of”, and personally commit to getting it solved.

Most readers would answer D or E. But you’re wording in E is key. We have to take personal ownership, which means saying “I’m sorry” instead of “I’m sorry someone else didn’t help you.” The volunteer that approached me last Sunday didn’t care about my title or the details of my job description. All she knew was I’m paid to serve the church. She was right.

Now, I didn’t spend my entire day Monday scouring the church for ants. But in this case, I did email facilities about the issue, asked them to address it, and update me when it was complete. (Owning it includes follow-up, too.)

Leaders and staff who own it:

  • Don’t look for others to blame. (Another way to say it is, “Don’t throw others under the bus”.)
  • Do take responsibility for issues publicly, and then privately deal with the need      and determine who can handle it best.
  • Don’t view themselves as above certain tasks – it’s an “everyone serves” mentality.”

The restaurants and stores I frequent faithfully are full of employees who own it.

I bet the same could be said for a lot of church attendees, too.

I first became aware of this phrase, “Owning It” as a part of a leadership talk based on the book The Oz Principle.


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