Why Great Leaders Take the Rap for Their Team


Leadership can have it’s ups and downs.

On the high side – the glory, the recognition, the rewards.

On the down side – the stress of being responsible for others, the constant expectations and sometimes even the isolation.

And then there’s the small problem of having to deal with mistakes.

Small ones. Big ones. Sometimes even catastrophic ones.

In fact, in ten years as a recruiter I can safely say that even the most famous leaders in business have had more than their fair share of instances where the mistake of a team member has resulted in a major mess.

Yet what’s interesting is how these mistakes are managed.

Most companies typically highlight the culprit, create a highly publicised “examination” and then show that they really mean business by usually firing or making an example of the person. The recent bankers being trialled for the illegal trading activity in the last financial crisis are a good example of this.

Find the wrong-doer and punish them. Makes sense right?


Great leaders are different. They never point the fingers at their followers. In fact they realise that unless its something truly inexcusable, one of the key responsibilities of being a successful leader is to protect your followers – even if they screw up.

Here are some reasons why great leaders take the rap for their team.

It creates loyalty

Loyalty is the most precious quality any team can have.

The most successful leaders build teams that will do anything for each other. Work extra hours. Help others out for no immediate rewards. Make personal sacrifices. Even take risks.

And there’s no better way of creating loyalty than by putting the needs of others before your own. Which means letting them take credit as well as shielding them from the criticism of others.

Great leaders understand that one of the fastest and strongest way to build loyalty from followers is by protecting them. When team members know they are working for a leader who puts them first, they reciprocate.

They work harder, longer and with more passion to keep their leader happy.

Great leaders put loyalty before protocol.

It increases the chance of forgiveness

In the last financial crisis, nearly every major investment bank in the world was found guilty of fraud, illegal trading activity and in some cases even outright theft.

Their response?

To name and shame.

Bankers got identified. Traders went to prison. Billion dollar fines were paid and several individuals banned from banking forever. But with what consequence?

Does the public at large now believe banking is clean? Is it realistic to think that just a handful of individuals brought down entire economies on their own? And most importantly do we really think that the organisations themselves are really sorry?

Scapegoats aren’t convincing. What we really want is those at the top to take responsibility and start working on gaining our trust back.

The best leaders understand that the bigger the mistake, the more important it is to stick together and ensure the core problem is fixed. Although there may be inevitable anger and criticism, people will always have greater respect for a leader who stands up when the pressure is on rather than simply running for the hills and blaming another.

Only with such an attitude can there be any chance of showing genuine regret and starting the road to forgiveness.

Great leaders work on forgiveness.

It lowers the chance of it happening again

Ever made such a big mistake that you literally felt like running away?

Wished like you could go somewhere that nobody knew you or literally could start all over again?

We all have. So what holds us back? What prevents us running away and instead focus on recovering, learning from the experience and coming back stronger so that we ensure it never happens again?

The same thing that drives most of our behaviour.

Other people.

Great leaders understand that everyone makes mistakes. And rather than huge penalties and disastrous consequences, the best way to prevent mistakes happening again is through the care and appreciation of another person.

Followers will always respect and feel connected to a leader who protects and empowers them. And in such cases they’ll do their best to ensure they don’t let them down again.

Great leaders create great expectations.


It’s human nature to not want to accept responsibility for mistakes.

Especially those that are not directly down to us.

But great leaders are never afraid to take one for the team. Rather than shift the responsibility and create alibis based on the facts, they’re more concerned on sticking together, moving forward and ensuring it never happens again.

Does your boss take the rap?