Tech Leadership: Fault vs. Responsibility

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When I captained my sports team in high school, I complained that coach always blamed things on me. If I got yelled at for failing to bring a watch to practice, fine–that was my mistake. But if the weather turned, or the equipment broke, I still got yelled at. I hated it. It wasn’t fair! After all, those events were not “my fault.”

Here’s the thing, though. Despite the fact that I didn’t want to be blamed for the things that weren’t my fault, I wanted to be in charge. I wanted to keep the fun, independent part of leadership and dispose of the downside.

In tech companies, I see managers and directors do this all the time. When things go wrong in an organization, the leader’s first move is to point out when the problem was not his or her fault. This behavior is a hallmark of weak leaders who fail to solve problems.


When you are in charge of a team, everything that happens to that team becomes your responsibility. The equipment, the people, the mission–everything. Responsibility is not the same as fault. Responsibility acknowledges that, even if you do not have complete control over what happens on your project, it is your project, and your job is to take care of it. If, somehow, that project is not taken care of, it’s on you. You don’t get to push it away like an uneaten plate of soggy peas.

When you spend time establishing that something isn’t your fault, you don’t just look like a poor leader. You also waste time that could be spent fixing the problem, getting the mission underway again, and making sure the same problem does not arise again.

In the end, leadership is not about blame–it’s about the people you serve. You want to fulfill your responsibility as a leader because you want those people’s efforts to lead to success.

You’ll also find that prioritizing your responsibilities this way puts you ahead of most leaders in your field. That’s because they largely do not understand the difference between fault and responsibility. While they should be in the trenches fixing the problem, they’re making a spectacle of themselves to convince the world that it’s not their fault–and the mission still fails. These leaders’ skills at accepting responsibility are weak. By contrast, you know how to step forward, accept responsibility, and figure out how to make things better. Regardless of whose fault it was, people notice this.

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