The President of the United States is asked to stay the execution of a death row inmate. Throughout the hour show, President Bartlet struggles with the decision, asking each of his advisors their thoughts, and listening to the diverse and fervent opinions. He ultimately invites his family priest to the White House, hoping to reconcile his responsibility and his faith.
When the priest enters the Oval Office, they greet each other warmly, but the priest asks the President whether or not he should call him Jed, or Mr. President.
The President’s response blew me away, as I’m watching The West Wing while exercising on the elliptical. He said he would prefer that his old friend and priest call him Mr. President at that time, as the decision he would have to make was not his decision, but that of the office with which he was entrusted.
“We” Are Not Leaders
What a profound statement, and how true that rings in the context of leadership. As leaders, we act on behalf of the organization in which we lead. We are entrusted to do the right thing for the organization, which is a highly significant responsibility.
To me, that simple statement puts a totally different lens on leadership decisions; I am not making leadership decisions based on me or my personal perspectives. I am making leadership decisions that are right for the organization.
Off the Hook
In some ways, that let’s “me” off the hook. It is not “me” sitting in judgment of employees at their annual performance evaluation, it is not “me” laying off individuals, it is not “me” deciding which project will be funded and which will not. It is the position that I hold, that has responsibility to the greater good.
Clearly, my personal perspectives will be taken into consideration, and hopefully I hold a position where my values match those of the organization, so that my decisions feel right to me. But given this concept, it is not “me” making the decision; it is the position I have been entrusted to hold. And that trust means that I will look beyond myself, find and consider all of the relevant data and facts, and make my decision in the best interest of the organization.
An Awesome Responsibility
A more profound way of looking at this new concept is to look at this position with which we are entrusted with respect and awe in the responsibility we have been given. As leaders, we are trusted with the assets and resources of the organization, that we will consider everything that needs to be considered and that our actions will be in the best interest of the organization as a whole.
When I look at leadership through this lens, it is awesome, and mandates actions that may not be the actions I would take if “I” were the decider. It requires that I look beyond my personal opinions, gather data that may be contrary to my own perspective, and make a decision that may be different from my personal decision.
This show gave me a new way to think about my role as a leader, and I will continue to ponder. But my immediate takeaways….
I am given a privilege and a responsibility when I become a leader. It is not a role to accept lightly.
I will have to make difficult decisions, but I will be making them as a representative of the position I hold, not as “me.”
My responsibilities are to several constituents, and I have to take each into consideration as I carefully make decisions. My constituents are the organization as a whole, my team, my peers and the larger community outside my organization. It is my responsibility to consider all of these, along with my own knowledge and perspective.
If I am faced with making leadership decisions that conflict with my personal values, then I am not in the right organization.
I’m sure that there are more lessons I will find in this nugget of leadership wisdom, but that’s it for now. I would love to hear your thoughts.