Creative Leadership

Target CEO Resigns: Leaders Are Responsible Even When Things Aren’t Their Fault

The CEO of Target resigned last week amid the furor over the data breach that jeopardized 40 million payment card accounts since the Black Friday shopping weekend. Gregg Steinhafel had been at Target for 35 years and has been a respected leader through some challenging times. But with the data breach issue dragging on, and impacting stock prices, he finally stepped aside.  The truth is – he wasn’t a computer geek or IT guy. He didn’t design the program that caused the breach, or make any mistakes personally. However, as the leader, he took responsibility. After the crisis, it was his job to follow up, minimize the disruption, and keep the company moving forward. But as the scope of the problem became clear, it was simply too much to fix.

There’s a good lesson here:  Leaders are the bottom line. Leaders are responsible. Leaders fix things.

If you’re a leader you can’t blame others, you have to step into the crisis. You may not be responsible for the problem, but you’re responsible for fixing the problem.

And when you can’t do that, it’s time to step aside, so someone else can.


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  1. Tragic situation that one who knows nothing about IT has to take the blame for someone else messing up, but as you mention, that is the nature of leadership. I wonder how that works in the church. If a staff member messes up, should the Sr pastor resign? Just wondering.

    1. Great question Bill and something I probably should have addressed. The big issue here is a dropping stock price, which isn’t exactly the same as a church. However, if a staff member did something so serious as potentially cause the collapse of the church – major embezzling, sex scandal, etc. Then yes, the pastor stepping down might be warranted.

      1. That’s a tough one for me Phil. I came here in 11/05 and the church was less than a year old. We moved into our own facility in 8/10. In 1/11 I found out our Treasurer had been embezzling to the tune of about $250k. Our situation is such that I have no control over $$$, nor do I want any. I have no idea what anyone gives. But I was the one who did the major investigation (had the secretary’s help) and reported it to the other leadership then to the church. There was no way they were holding me responsible nor ever entertained the thought of my resignation. That would have been even more devastating. You raise a good issue though in this thought.

        1. Also btw: I did go to see NOAH. Realizing what it was, I went for the entertainment value and was entertained. While segments of it were so-so, I see no sense in all the negative “biblical” hoopla. It wasn’t a biblical movie. ironically, I had gone to our local theater to see The 10 Commandments and left after 2 1/2 hours. I saw tons of unscriptural stuff there. Why no uproar about it? Just wondering. 🙂

  2. The issue of “vicarious liability” has exploded since the days of the Enron disaster. While tragic, it is true that a leader is not simply responsible for what they know, but also for what they should know. This is mostly good for the business world overall. I just wish our politicians of all stripes could be held just as responsible.

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