Back on the topic of the Leadership Principles, we’re going to explore one that even Tommy from Rugrats understands: responsibility (or “‘sponsbltee” as he pronounces it). The principle states “seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.” While it seems relatively straightforward, this principle requires some parsing and deeper exploration.
Many managers (which I do work hard to differentiate from leaders) understand they are accountable but few make the leap to being responsible. Responsibility is all about ownership. Accountability is simply being the first person they call when things get screwed up. Big difference. To really understand this principle, I think some fictional examples might be helpful.
First we’ll explore the “take responsibility for your actions” clause because it’s simpler then we’ll move into the advanced class about “seeking responsibility.”
Accountability and responsibility are somewhat different animals. To make the point, allow me to offer two responses to the same scenario. The situation is the business unit just cratered and completely missed its earnings target. The leader of said unit is called onto the carpet to explain what’s happened. Here are the responses.
Accountable manager: “Well, I know it doesn’t look good that we missed by 27%. It makes sense I’m the one here explaining it as I run the business unit. But here’s what happened – our managers aren’t trained enough in what they do and they didn’t have the skills needed to cope with a rapidly changing economic environment. On top of that, I had a lot of pressures from IT to keep within a spending target so they could make their numbers which means I wasn’t able to make all the investments I wanted to. I’m sorry we missed our numbers. We’ll get ’em next year Skipper!”
Responsible leader: “I didn’t deliver on my commitment to the organization. I failed to ensure my people were properly trained and I didn’t take fast enough action in correcting their shortcomings when they became clear. Despite IT budget pressures, I wasn’t able to figure out a way to deliver the desired results through other means versus relying solely on IT. To ensure this doesn’t happen again, here’s the plan I’m going to roll out to better prepare us for next year.”
The accountable manager knows his head is on the block and deflects blame for the poor results on factors outside of his control. In his mind, it’s the market’s fault and his team’s fault that things didn’t get delivered on. Contrast that with our responsible leader who takes FULL responsibility for EVERYTHING that happens on her watch (this dynamic is similar to the “you see it – you own it” approach). In the military they say “the commander is responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen on their watch.” There are no excuses. The responsible leader understands and embodies this.
The idea of not only taking responsibility (as our responsible leader above does) but going beyond that and seeking it out would, unfortunately, blow the spec of many “leaders” in those roles today. The simple notion of looking for more areas to be responsible for is a completely foreign concept. The thing is, it’s a factor that truly differentiates outstanding leaders from their peers.
Here’s the notion: after you’ve taken responsibility for everything that occurs (or doesn’t occur) in your world, take a giant step back and figure out where else you can have a positive impact in your organization. Scary, huh?
A huge benefit of this principle of seeking responsibility is that great leaders right their own houses and spread their influence into the darker recesses of the organization. When they seek responsibility, many times those responsibilities come in the form of larger roles or taking on work their immediate manager used to perform (ostensibly freeing that individual up to take on larger responsibilities themselves). The growth and advancement of both individuals and the organization as a whole are embodied in this leadership principle. This type of growth goes hand in hand with the type of personal and professional development I advocate in today’s rapidly changing world.
Seeking responsibility is good for all involved. You benefit because you’re building skills and expanding your capabilities. You also benefit because people around you see you’re dedicated to changing the organization for the better rather than simply being satisfied sitting around collecting your paycheck. Your team benefits because they get to see a great example of true leadership that they’ll hopefully emulate. Your boss benefits because she can expand her own responsibilities and grow her skills while you take things off her plate to enable her to do so. The organization benefits because everyone is growing and seeking to do the right thing on a larger scale.
So please – never throw someone under the bus if they’re on your team. If they make a mistake, you’re responsible for it. Chucking people under the bus saves you in the short term but you’ll soon find you’ve run out of bodies to chuck because they’re either all bus crushed or they’ve fled the scene to avoid being the next sacrifice to the Bluebird gods. Second – look for ways to expand your responsibilities and do so for the good of the organization. Subordinate your interests to those of the greater good and you’ll do fantastic.
Let’s hear about leaders you’ve had and how they’ve exemplified this principle (or share the jerk stories and how they didn’t – but no names or identifying specifics please). So who’s going to be the first to share a story with us? Comments please…
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC