In taking over my various leadership positions, I have not always been particularly gracious to my predecessors. In many ways, it was easier to blame the person who led the organization previously than it was to recognize the contributions they made. In my case, pointing out a predecessor’s flaws was a way for me to establish my new “regime” and to demonstrate how much different (or better) I was than my predecessor.
Looking back, I recognize that assigning blame to those who came before me was at best unhelpful and at worst disgusting. The practice said far more about my immaturity as a leader than it did about those who came before me. So, to all those who preceded me in leadership, I am sorry for not recognizing your contributions and, instead, putting the blame on you for the organization’s problems. I hope you can forgive my immaturity and disrespect.
Having had a long enough career to leave two leadership positions, I now understand the pain of moving on. Leaving something to which you have devoted substantial amounts of passion, thought, and energy to another leader is an odd experience. It isn’t easy (at least not for me). As I’ve reflected both on my treatment of predecessors and on my departures from leadership, I’ve come to believe the following: strong leaders own their responsibility for the organization they inherited (whatever state its in) and get to work.
Strong leaders own the issues in their organization whether they created them or not simply because it is now their organization to run. While former leaders can (and occasionally do) exercise influence even after they have departed, the current leader is the one in charge. It is always the current leader’s responsibility to own whatever organizational problems exist and to move the organization forward.
Assigning blame can be a great way to vent frustration (I know…I did it). Unfortunately, its a lousy way to solve problems. It is also unfair and disrespectful to those who came before. In some cases, it can be helpful to understand the mistakes of the past. There is often wisdom in recognizing why decisions were made, what went wrong, or how past leaders were influenced by various forces. Answering those sort of questions, however, should cultivate humility as we realize that our decisions are likely to be subjected to similar scrutiny by those who come after us. No leader is perfect, but all of them are responsible.
So, the lesson for leaders is simple: own it…all of it…because it is your’s now. Don’t pass the buck and blame your organization’s problems on the last person to occupy the position. Be gracious, point the way forward, and make every effort to leave your organization in a better state than you found it.