Understanding The Responsibilities of Leadership

Fred Smith illustrates the impact of leadership responsibilities through the story of Abram and Sarai.

By Fred Smith

For years I've been interested in how mistakes at the very top affect the life and fortune of an organization. For example, we know how Sewell Avery assuming there would be a post-world war is depression positioned Montgomery-Ward for a depression and the company has never recovered. On the other hand, General Wood of Sears took the opposite position and Sears moved far ahead of Montgomery Ward. Dallas has had some business some Oftentimes decisions that turn on ego and greed by a small percentage of top management cause a great deal of the grief.

For a while I was a director of the S.H.Kress company and I could see how the prior management had made the major mistake of thinking that suburbs were not going to take over retailing so they kept their real estate in downtown locations. They didn't realize they weren't in the real estate business but they were in the retail business. In fact, they let some of the operations people become more dominant than the merchandising people. As you know , operations people can convince you that not opening the store is actually the most economical way to run it. You do, however, miss the customer revenue.


When I look at the story of Abram and Sarai in Genesis 16 I see that he missed the responsibility of leadership in at least three ways:

1. He listened with his desire.

I don't want to distort the picture, but I imagine that Hagar was not an unattractive young lady, and since it says that they had been there for ten years and she had been with them. I can imagine Abram every once in a while glancing over and having a thought or two about her desirability. Therefore when Sarai made the suggestion that he sleep with her, it wasn't the worst thing that he could think about.

I think we all have to be extremely careful when we listen with our desire rather than our objective intelligence. In any big decision, I try to say, what do I want to believe? Because this is the thing I have to guard against——the thing I want to believe. This is the way con men take us, by getting us to want something and then making us believe that what they're offering accomplishes that desire.

2. Abram permitted the abuse of Hagar.

Remember he said to Sarai, "Your maid is in your hand. Do with her as you will. " Hagar was part of his family. She was to bear his child. And he should not have permitted the use and abuse of her just to appease Sarai's jealousy.

3. Abram did not confront Sarai.

It is one of the responsibilities of leadership to confront error. We don't do it particularly well in the Christian community. Sometimes we don't do it personally or even as parents like we should.


Last Friday I was talking to a friend who was a vice president of one of the corporations where I served, and I knew he was having a great deal of problems with his son. I asked him about this and he said that he had spent almost a hundred thousand dollars trying to buy his son out of trouble. I asked him whether he thought that was the proper thing to do and he said, "Absolutely not. I have stopped and will let my son take the consequences of his acts. I will not bail him out any more." Then he said, "I made a mistake in not making him face the music right from the beginning." There is nothing more important for a leader of a family or an organization to teach than the principle of cause and effect.

When he failed in his responsibilities as a leader, Abram began a generational cycle of events that we can see today. Sin carries widening consequences. The ripples fan out and generally affect a great many people who are not involved in the sin directly.

When Ishmael was born, the Arab race came into being, and all the years

of conflict between Jews and Arabs began. OPEC started when Abram sinned. Oil

at $13.50 a barrel is one of the indirect consequences.

Leadership carries responsibility that affects entire groups of people. Abram demonstrated that his inability to lead with integrity opened the door to actions and reactions that continue today. Decisions bear long-term consequences.