Daniel Doherty

As AEI's President Arthur Brooks recently pointed out in an op-ed, the key to any great leader’s success is taking responsibility for one’s actions. Something, he argued, this president doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot of lately:

A vast scholarly literature spanning more than six decades exists on the subject of leadership. The characteristics of effective leaders have been pored over, cataloged and debated. Among them, one trait stands out as axiomatic: Effective leaders take responsibility for problems around them; they do not shift blame to others. As Winston Churchill put it, "The price of greatness is responsibility."

Indeed, studies show that taking responsibility is one of the key traits people expect from a leader. In one 2006 study, two researchers at the University of Kent in England conducted a laboratory experiment in which human subjects in a group were given money and a choice: They could either keep it all or contribute some portion to a "group fund" that would be doubled and divided equally between all participants. Some people cooperated for the good of all, while others did not.

In a second phase of the experiment, the participants were asked who would be the best leader for the group. Eighty percent of the time, they chose the person who had contributed the most to the fund in the first phase. When people can choose the people who will lead them, they prefer people who proactively take responsibility for group welfare.

This brings us to the current debate over the shutdown of the federal government. The conventional narrative is that conservative policymakers are holding the nation hostage and hamstringing the helpless president.

Americans will likely see through this. A majority dislikes the current Republican strategy, but they know that ultimate culpability lies with leadership at the top. This sorry episode will reinforce the growing perception of the president as a leader who is more comfortable denouncing subordinates for disagreement than in taking responsibility.

According to Brooks, the following is a pitch-perfect example of how the president oftentimes refuses to take responsibility for his words and actions:

[C]onsider the recent Syria debacle. Initially, the president declared a "red line" if President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in that nation's civil war. But when the Syrian leader was shown to have done so, Obama failed to act, and declared, "I didn't set a red line, the world set a red line. My credibility is not on the line." The president shouldn't have been surprised when 54% of Americans said they believed he was "ducking responsibility for his earlier statement."

There is plenty of time for the president to take responsibility and rectify his perceived leadership deficit. It is true that he does not have a rubber stamp; the House of Representatives is certainly opposed to many of his initiatives. But that makes leadership at the top all the more important. Great leaders negotiate and own the consequences.

That’s something we really haven’t seen yet from President Obama -- at least during this ongoing and protracted government shutdown debate. Question: Will the president reverse course and come to the bargaining table sooner rather than later as congressional Republicans hope? Don’t count on it -- yet. But we'll wait and see what happens.

Read the whole thing here.


Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography