While preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, I learned a hard lesson in leadership I’ll always remember.
During a live fire exercise using real bullets, a soldier in the platoon I led accidentally discharged his weapon, firing off 10 rounds and almost hitting our battalion commander.
I found myself on the receiving end of the commander’s wrath, and was nearly relieved of my command. While I hadn’t fired the shots, I was accountable for the soldier who had. In response, I did everything I could to ensure nothing like that ever happened again. We changed procedures, double-checked weapons and sharpened our discipline. I took responsibility.
I learned a valuable lesson that day, one that is ingrained in every military commander, at all levels: you are accountable for everything that happens in your unit, and your actions will have consequences. Period.
That’s a lesson our commander-in-chief, President Obama, seems to never have learned; he prefers to dodge responsibility, declare his ignorance of what’s going on or just to outright mislead the nation. And the president is now paying the price for his unwillingness to embrace the ethic of accountability.
Most recently, we’ve seen the president’s accountability problem in the disastrous rollout of his signature health care law.
When the Obamacare website was revealed as an expensive, dysfunctional boondoggle at its launch, the president professed to be surprised. You might have thought the president would be riding herd on his top policy priority to ensure it would work as promised, but he kept himself out of the loop. That’s hardly the mark of an accountable leader.
Then, as Americans began receiving notices that their insurance policies were being cancelled as a result of Obamacare, critics reminded the president of his repeated promise that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan…no matter what.” (A widely viewed web video compiled by New York magazine edited together some two dozen instances of the president making that promise between 2008-1012.)
An accountable leader would have had admitted that he had, at best, misspoken or been mistaken in making such a categorical promise, as hundreds of thousands of Americans nationwide were finding their coverage is in jeopardy. But President Obama? He attempted to retroactively revise his previous promise, and then when that failed, offered up a grudging apology to NBC News.
It’s not just health care. Throughout his area of executive responsibility, President Obama has repeatedly failed to take accountability for his words and actions.
For example, when the president nearly blundered into a new war in the Middle East through his clumsy declaration that Syria had crossed “a red line,” he tried to deny he’d ever made such a statement.
When news broke that the IRS had targeted groups opposed to the president’s agenda, he said he knew nothing of what the agency was doing — why, he learned about it from the news, just like we did.
When the world learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders, we were told the president had no idea of the extent of the NSA’s operations.
There’s a clear pattern. The president appears to see leadership as a process of deploying strategic evasions, deflecting responsibility, crafting revisionist histories and wrapping himself in a cocoon of plausible deniability.
Of course, by contrast, when things go well, the president and his followers would have you believe he and he alone was the architect of success. But that approach turns the principle of accountability on its head. The best and most respected commanders deflect credit for success, preferring instead to credit their subordinates. That’s how you build trust and credibility as a leader — and how you ensure results.
It’s little wonder Americans have begun to question President Obama’s credibility.According to a recent Gallup poll, the president’s approval rating has sunk to a new low of 39 percent. That number no doubt reflects declining trust in the president’s leadership.
So how might President Obama win back the trust of the American people? Here’s my advice: embrace accountability. Follow the example of your military commanders in taking responsibility for your words and actions. That’s the only way to measure up to the image of the leader you promised to be in your first campaign for president in 2008.
Once credibility is lost, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to win back. If President Obama hopes to restore trust and credibility in his administration, he needs to begin with himself and take responsibility for both the good and the bad.
Sean Parnell, military advisor to Concerned Veterans for America is a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, served six years in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, retiring as a highly decorated captain. He is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan.”