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Leadership and Responsibility: Is Sheriff Israel "an amazing leader" (his words) or a cowa

Here’s the quote that’s getting the most attention:

"I gave him a gun. I gave him a badge. I gave him the training. If he didn't have the heart to go in, that's not my responsibility.”

There’s plenty to work with right there. But the comment that really got my attention was what Israel said first:

“Leaders are responsible for an agency. Leaders are not responsible for a person.”

Wrong Sheriff Israel. Just plain wrong.

You lead PEOPLE.

That is the defining characteristic of a genuine leader. The actions of the people you serve is a direct reflection of your own character and your connection to the people who trust in your leadership.

Now to be fair to Sheriff Israel, despite whatever authority and training you provide, you cannot always control the actions of any particular individual in any particular situation. Any individual’s actions––or inactions might not even be your fault…

That does not, however, excuse you from the responsibility.

One of the qualities that defines a truly exceptional leader is the willingness to accept full responsibility for the actions of those under his command––especially when things go bad. General George Patton said it best:

“A general officer who will invariably assume the responsibility for failure, whether he deserves it or not, and invariably give the credit for success to others, whether they deserve it or not, will achieve outstanding success.”

In this Sheriff Israel is an abject failure.

Worse, he has piled on the bandwagon of those accusing Deputy Scot Peterson of cowardice. That may be an appropriate description, but it is far too early to make that determination.

It’s an abdication of leadership responsibility to condemn someone under your command before due process can confirm those claims. So far, Peterson claims he believed the shots were coming from outside the school and that he acted in accordance to his training to protect the students from that threat in that scenario.

I’m not defending Deputy Peterson, but he sure makes for an easy scapegoat.

That does not get Sheriff Israel off the hook. Certainly if Peterson had acted swiftly and bravely lives would have been saved––and Sheriff Israel would not be taking the heat for his potential leadership failures. I can’t help but wonder how quickly Sheriff Israel have accepted credit and praise for his deputy’s courage and the quality of his training had Peterson charged in to confront the shooter.

Let’s revisit that viral quote:

"I gave him a gun. I gave him a badge. I gave him the training. If he didn't have the heart to go in, that's not my responsibility.”

The best leaders always look in the mirror first when things go wrong. From his own words, I’m wondering how Sheriff Israel shaves in the morning…

You gave this man a badge––the authority to act. Was he fully capable? It certainly is your responsibility to manage the process that makes that determination.

You gave him the training. Was that training adequate? You are certainly responsible for the training of your troops.

And if Deputy Peterson truly “didn’t have the heart to go in…” I would look first to the culture of leadership––or the lack of it––that starts and ends with you.

As I said, no matter how competent a leader may be, you cannot fully control the actions of everyone you serve. There are people who do bad things under great leadership. There are times when people underperform or simply fail.

The best leaders take the heat…

They look first at themselves and ask what they might have done better or differently. They accept the failures of those under them as their own.

By embracing responsibility, you have the opportunity to learn from failures––your own or those of the people in your charge. You have the opportunity to confront these failures and make necessary changes.

Most of all, when you embrace this level of responsibility you grow as a leader––and as a person. In so doing, you earn the respect, trust and loyalty of the people you serve.

If you are unwilling to do so––you are not a leader.

One more quote from Sheriff Israel––and he should have stopped with this one:

“I’m the Sheriff. My name’s on the door." That’s right. And that means you are responsible for the actions of the people you serve.


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