08/30/2013 10:50 am ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

Take the Blame Yourself

Denying responsibility is foolish and wrong. If something goes wrong, take the blame -- at least I always tried to do so. While this approach is one, I believe, any president should follow, many don't. In fact, at times accepting responsibility seems contrary to the modus operandi in this country.

I am not advocating that presidents follow the Japanese practice of resigning or committing suicide if something bad happens on their watch; I'm certainly not embracing the Chinese model of putting a bullet in the head of an erring president. However, I clearly think accepting responsibility for what happens on one's watch is the only right (and honorable) approach to follow.

Taking the blame is also, I believe, the only smart approach. So long as one doesn't have to accept blame too often, so long as not too many mistakes are made, accepting responsibility is evidence of real leadership.

There are times when it is obvious the blame is yours. If you give a speech or write an article, you obviously have no place to hide. Of course, even when your actions result in negative press, you can always argue any publicity is good for the institution, since people will remember the name of the college long after the context in which the name is used is forgotten.

For me the clearest example of this paradox resulted from an article I wrote calling for a "moral obligation" scholarship program in which recipients would have a moral, not legal, obligation to repay the scholarship. Unfortunately, I served as my own counsel, and I never ran the concept past tax experts. The irony was that, although I was initially criticized personally by a nationally syndicated columnist for, in her words, disguising loans as scholarships, I was vindicated by her when she quoted an Internal Revenue Service official who concluded my approach was legal.

I was lucky. Had things turned out differently, I would have had no one but myself to blame, and I would have had to take myself out to the woodshed. By the way, when taking someone else to the woodshed, do so privately. Public settings are for you to accept responsibility.

Never put the blame on someone else's shoulders. Your shoulders may not be bigger than anyone else's; however, your pay grade -- and your success -- require you to accept responsibility.