When we turn 18, we become an adult and thus in the eyes of the law we are responsible for ourselves. Yes, we probably still live with our parents and in full-time education. But it’s the start of us taking ownership and responsibility for ourselves as an adult. And then what does responsibility as the leader mean?

Many of us start the process of gaining our independence at a much younger age, from what we want to wear, eat, do in our free time. It’s all about deciding for ourselves who we are and what we want to do. 

On a deeper level, it’s actually taking responsibility and ownership of who we are. Being independent feels fantastic at the start – freedom, and space to be me!

Over time we realise there are also consequences to being independent. If we don’t eat we get hungry, if we don’t put petrol in the car it eventually stops, if we don’t hand in our assignments, we’ll probably fail the course. If we’re hurtful towards friends, they will probably choose not to be our friend for much longer. If we’re late to work, we could get fired. If we … whether we like it or not, our actions or non-actions have consequences that we may or may not like. Some decisions have quick responses, others take more time to see our choices’ fruit. Whether that’s our character, bank balance, social standing, or achievements in school or work. The delay in seeing the result/ consequence of our choice can hamper our decision to make a more challenging option, especially if others won’t know the difference.

Taking responsibility isn’t just for being proud of what we’ve done when it’s worked out ok – but owning up to the mistakes and failures our choices have helped produce. We become the leader of ourselves (and anything we are thus responsible for). 

When we become the leader or owner of something, we are consciously saying yes to taking responsibility for how the project/ pet/ outcome will turn out. That the consequences of what happens as a result of all the choices going forward will be on us. It’s great when our parents give us a pet, and we become responsible for taking care of it. We have our parents to fall back on for help, advice, reminders even buying the food. But we learn the basics of what responsibility looks like by taking care of something that can’t take care of all its needs by itself.

The shift

Taking on the leadership responsibility for “x” is another shift. 

Below are several aspects to consider:

  • You are not alone – praise God!

    • We always have God and Holy Spirit to partner with to help us make the right decisions and give us the strength and grace to follow through when things are tough.
    • We have our leaders whom we’re accountable to – to go to for help, advice…
    • If you’re leading a team/ group, then there are those people. 
  • Some assumptions are usually made:

    • Becoming the leader doesn’t mean you stop being a follower. All of us have others we’re still accountable to.
    • We’re not going to end up breaking the law.
    • We will do our best to make what we’re leading successful.
    • There will be parameters, guidelines that you will have to follow. E.g. values, budget, bigger goals your part fits into.
    • You will do what you said you would in the time you’ve been given to complete it. 
    • If you don’t think you can do it in the time agreed, you’re the one who needs to go (before the deadline) and explain why you don’t think you’ll make it.
    • Just winging it won’t work – that’s not actually taking mature responsibility for something, especially if it’s not an unexpected immediately needed response.
    • They expect you to do your best. But not panic if it’s not perfect.
    • How you handle failure and disappointment is usually more important than the actual thing you failed in. We are all not perfect but can learn from our mistakes.
  • Action is required

    • You will be expected to take the initiative and act not only respond.
    • If you have a question or not sure about something – you’re the one who needs to go ask. This is easier for more natural initiators than responders (but this doesn’t give responders an excuse – it will require more effort). 
    • As the leader, you’re the one who chases up and catches up with others, you don’t always get the luxury of waiting for others to come to you. 
  • You will have to make a plan. 

    • Somethings don’t need a big detailed plan. But most things, if you want them done well and without involving others. 
    • The more experience you have at leading/ having responsibility, the less planning you’ll need to do on the small stuff. (You’re mostly using the successful plans you’ve previously used).
    • The size, time frame, number of people involved and expected outcome will help determine how much planning is needed. Yes, things can be done ok without a plan – but everyone knows it will be done better when there is a good plan in place.
  • Clear communication is essential

    • Be sure you know exactly what is expected of you.
    • Be sure others know exactly what you are expecting of them.
    • When things are quiet, assumptions creep in, and miscommunication/ conflict is quick to follow.
    • In YWAM, we have a value – communicate with integrity. 
    • I have a value of being quick to own up – as you can only work from what is actually real. So it’s better to admit when you’re wrong/failed quickly, so it can be sorted easily.
  • Your leaders believe in you

    • If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have asked you to lead. 
    • God believes the best in you.
    • Believe in yourself too. Those you lead will struggle to have more confidence in you than you have in yourself.
  • Own the responsibility

    • Take the blame for what your team has done, never look to blame others or the circumstances.
    • If you see things aren’t going well, act to change it – things can be turned around or fixed, especially when caught early.
    • Check-in with your team on how they are doing. Not checking up on them to see what they are doing. The former shows trust the latter erodes trust.
  • Enjoy yourself

    • Yes, it can feel like a weight has been added to your shoulders, but you are ready for it. Take a moment to pause – it’s a promotion to celebrate. People see potential in you and trust you enough to give you this responsibility. Yeah!
    • You’re stepping outside your comfort zone – take time to feel the new space you have. You’ve got room to grow so stretch out and breathe deeply.
    • Here’s the opportunity to add your flavour, your personality to your new role. Savour it as you take time to find your new rhythm.
  • Take time to regularly ask yourself

    • How am I doing in developing the things I’m responsible for?
    • Are we still heading in the right direction or got side-tracked?

For me

Early on in my leadership journey, a leader of mine challenged me to push myself out of my comfort zone. To try new things and not be held back by fear of failure or not being perfect. He knew I had the potential to do more. So wanted me to discover what that actually looked like. It was like being given permission to reach further and not worry if it was too far. He had my back and would be there to celebrate and help me process and learn whatever the outcome was. He wasn’t worried about me not caring or doing a good job, but to try my best was bigger than staying in my known normal. So care enough to take that extra step, push yourself to own what you are responsible for and take it to that next level. Being responsible means, you can take all your passion, energy and vision and make the most of the opportunity. No-one is looking for mediocre so don’t settle for it either.

“It’s better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would have happened if I had tried.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Rarely is a parent, teacher or leader disappointed when they see you try your best to care and achieve your potential. All of them would walk the extra mile with you to help you get there.

This, to me, is what owning my responsibilities looks like. I think I’m blessed to have a mother who brought me up to be independent. To own my choices and consequences and allowed me to do things she didn’t agree with but could see I’d thought through, (so we both learned from the outcome). As a leader now who is trying to delegate more to thus not control but give space to those I’m mentoring to grow and add their personality and giftings it’s hard to always be patient and wait. To give them the opportunity to self-correct or find their feet in how to be responsible. But I know that God has all of us in the palm of His hand and won’t let us fail too hard. His passion is to see us grow into our destiny and is rooting for us all the way.

If you are worried about what happens when you mess up (as we are all human and do get things wrong). May I suggest you read at my previous blog #13 What stops me from becoming the leader I want to be? And my feature article from July 2020 – What to do when you think your leader is wrong.

I would also love to hear what else you would add to this post or other questions related to this topic.