‘I take full responsibility’ — Really?
“I take full responsibility ... .”
This is a phrase that I feel like I have been hearing more and more in public life, but it seems to ring hollow the more times I hear it. Here is why.
I hear this phrase typically when someone is caught doing something wrong, or making a bad decision and there is almost irrefutable evidence for them to deny it. So rather than having the sordid details leak out over a period of time, a public statement is made saying that they, “accept full responsibility. ...”
Probably the most prominent example of this in recent days concerns the now former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Regarding the deaths of four Americans in the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, the former First Lady predictably declared, “I accept full responsibility. ...”
The thing that troubles me with public statements of “accepting responsibility” is that it seems often the very opposite occurs.
I grew up thinking that when one accepts full responsibility it meant that they were the one who would receive the consequence(s) of the poor decision(s), or choices that were made.
The one taking full responsibility, for example, did not hide behind technicalities, or chains of command. They did not allow those who served under them to be fired or disgraced, and they did not permit others to assume the financial burdens of the actions they are taking responsibility for.
Accepting responsibility, especially “full responsibility,” meant that one was admitting they were wrong. Such a person assumed the burden of the consequence, and made an earnest attempt to make restitution.
However, if current politics, and/or societal trends tell us anything, it is that accepting responsibility simply means making the now infamous statement — and if the action they are taking responsibility for is egregious enough — having to resign from their position (of course, with full benefits and compensation).
What’s more, and I tread lightly here, I am perplexed by how many stories I read in our local newspapers about improprieties and poor decisions that are made by local officials — who may have been well-intentioned, careless, ill-informed, or even desperate — yet they do not say, “I accept full responsibility for. ...”
Probably, the biggest symbol of this relates to the debacle of Rivers Elementary School. As I understand it, the rationalization for this costly financial investment is that the school was going to address the rising population of our county.
Still, many of us citizens have a gut reaction that this was an absolute waste of millions of my hard-earned dollars, and no one is being held accountable for it. At the end of the day, poor decisions always seem to end up costing the local taxpayers, rather than the individual(s) who made the decision(s).
When the standard is that it is the citizens, soldiers, and families who have to bear the consequences and make the restitutions for poor decisions, rather than those who actually made the decisions, there is something really wrong with how we function as a community and a nation.
Like many citizens in this county, I long for leaders in our government, businesses, and schools, who share my “old-fashioned” sense of what accepting full responsibility really means.
I am hopeful that many of our recently elected and appointed county leaders will accept full responsibility for their positions, share with the public the information and rationale for their decisions, and be the leaders we elected them to be.
As a property owner and parent with children in our public schools, I know their decisions will affect me personally, but I would hope that my fellow citizens would not be too critical to judge their actions simply based on how it affects them personally, but would listen and constructively engage in the decision-making process.
Additionally, I pray that our newly elected leaders would demonstrate strength of character and integrity in their actions and decision-making.
It is a sad day when impropriety, quid-pro quo deals, and infidelity seem to become the norm in political life rather than the exception to the rule.
Accepting responsibility, as a leader, means living out the integrity one campaigns on once he/she is in office.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]