“Yes, I was throwing eggs, but I didn’t throw THAT egg.” said the graduate student who had been joyously riding around in a car with his friend lobbing eggs at cars and passersby. “That egg” was the one that had attracted the attention of a campus police officer. The student was convinced that he didn’t deserve a penalty because no one had actually seen him throw an egg. He left my office understanding otherwise. In our first few weeks as conduct officers when this conversation happened, my colleague and I named this the “I didn’t throw THAT egg” defense because while the words changed, we were to hear it in many of its variations for the weeks and months to come.
My inner student conduct officer has been popping her head up at various points over the past few days because I keep reading about people trying to use the “I didn’t throw that egg” defense. My inner conduct officer says things like, “I can understand how you were caught up in the moment, but you still chose to hang from the balcony.” Or, “I understand you just followed the crowd in to see what happened, but…” And just this morning, “I understand that you just wanted to see what was happening, but you entered someone’s office, put your feet on their desk, and smoked a joint.” And finally, “I’m glad you’re sorry for what you did, but there are still consequences for your actions.”
I think one of our most important jobs as leaders is to understand that our actions and decisions have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are clear and immediate, sometimes they are further off in time and are unexpected. It is also our job to help the people we work with understand this concept. If we have a formal leadership position, there are times it is our responsibility to decide upon and enforce those consequences.
I’ve come to believe that one of the most important components of leadership is responsibility. It’s the willingness to take on responsibility for the success of the whole, not just your particular department or program or job duties. It’s also the ability to accept responsibility for the unintended consequences of actions or mistakes made.
It’s just plain hard to say, “I didn’t mean for that to happen, but it did and now I have to deal with the consequences” but it’s important. As I’ve watched and read the news this past week, that inner conduct officer thinks we need to do a better job of teaching people that actions have consequences and that, whether we like it or not, we bear responsibility for those consequences. What lessons about responsibility, actions, and consequences are you teaching? What are you modeling? Where have you seen leaders who understand this and make it part of their leadership? How are you finding ways to share this concept with others? It’s hard work, but it’s important work, now more than ever.
Best wishes to everyone as the new year gears up and another challenging semester begins. Stay safe and healthy so you can keep making a positive difference in your community. Now that’s a consequence that will benefit us all.