“We tend to hold ourself accountable for things we never did.
Hearts we never broke. People we didn’t hurt.
Souls we didn’t crush. “
All these years I’ve been looking at the wrong side.
Accountability, or responsibility, is always a good topic. And, yes, I am a big personal responsibility person. But in business, within an organization, responsibility tends to be more shared responsibility than simple personal responsibility.
To be clear.
I believe there is a strong relationship between shared responsibility and personal responsibility. The stronger the shared responsibility attitude & behavior within leadership & mentors & role models the stronger the development of personal responsibility muscle occurs in everyday schmucks like me. Conversely, if you are surrounded with lack of shared responsibility examples <or even those who espouse ‘selectively chosen shared responsibility’> the value of personal responsibility diminishes to an individual, therefore, they see less value in exhibiting personal responsibility.
We don’t talk about this relationship enough.
Far too often we flippantly suggest “people should take responsibility for their actions.”
Well … no shit Sherlock.
But if your roles models or leaders are constantly passing the buck when the shit hits the fan to save their own bacon <and image> then what the hell … why would you not do the same?
Everyone has to pull their weight and do their job and do what they say they are going to do … but very very rarely does an individual perform in a vacuum in a business.
This happens more so even in management.
It drives me a little nuts when I hear some leaders discuss “delegating.”
Somehow delegating equals “absolved of responsibility.”
This is stupid irresponsible thinking.
My belief that it is stupid thinking is rooted in some common sesne I am fairly sure the US Military says:
You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.
In other words … you can give others the power to do things … you can delegate … but, no matter what happens … if something goes wrong … the final responsibility always lies with the one who has delegated authority.
Sticking with the military as my guidance … this means if your business has an initiative that has gone SNAFU <“Situation Normal: All Fucked Up”> the blame … and the ultimate responsibility for the mistakes <fuck ups> falls … uhm … up.
The leader assumes responsibility.
This is shared responsibility.
In other words … this is leadership.
Once you become a business leader past a mom & pop management style business you have to face the concept of shared responsibility <and some embrace it and some reject it>.
You bear the responsibility for the cascade of events, decisions and actions leading up to the ‘authority giving’ which means everything you have done up until that point provides the context for the delegating … yeah … you own the arena in which you have placed the delegatee.
But this gets exponentially worse <if you are thinking about becoming a business leader>.
You actually also share responsibility for the consequences … uhm … intended and unintended.
This is different than delegating authority <although it relates to it> and owning responsibility for the action … this goes beyond to the actual ripples from the decisions & actions.
Some leaders have a nasty habit of assuming responsibility for the decision and the effect of the decision — within a finite period of time. The weakest leaders try and tie “that was out of my control” or “I wasn’t there for that” as soon as they can to a decision they make.
The strongest leaders worry less about any carnage that has been left behind but rather start worrying about any carnage the decisions & actions could possibly create for the future.
The truth is that business leaders should take a moment and remember the wise words of … well … an American Indian.
Red Cloud, an Oglala Lakota leader who led his people against the U.S. Army and later as his people transitioned from life on the plains to the reservation, stressed that when Indian people made a decision, it should be done with the welfare of the next seven generations in mind.
In a short term world where most business leaders are trying to make quarterly goals and just try and keep their job … thinking with the welfare of the next 7 generations seems … well … impossible.
I imagine the real point is that most good business leaders assume some responsibility for the generations to come. Some people may call this ‘long term strategy’ and some others will call it ‘keeping your eye on the horizon’ or even ‘having a vision’ … well … I am no Harvard Business guru and all that high falutin’ stuff seems unnecessary. To me it is much more simple.
You make decisions accepting the burden of responsibility for what will come … and may arise from your decision.
You share the responsibility for what will, or may, come.
And if you do that? Damn. You will do good and be good.
And if you do not do that? Damn. You may get a shitload of attention and applause in the moment and a shitload of attention and anger in the future.
Why do I say that?
Because if you don’t really believe in shared responsibility and flit from one decision to the next in a transactional “responsible only to the moment” way you will end up rushing from issue to issue, reacting without a plan or a strategy or <worse> no care of longer term affect, creating carnage yet to be seen <because that type of leader tends to seek only the cheers in the moment>.
Just to point it out … with no plan that means anything can happen and a leader can justify anything. Because with no plan to measure a decision against anything can look right … and unpredictable can be touted as ‘flexible to the situation.’
All of this fits a short term leader in a short term world.
The people are few and far between these days who weigh their responses and assess long term affects. In today’s world it almost seems a race to be the first to judge or comment on a decision or action and far too many leaders actually manage to the public race to comment rather than the longer term assessment.
This is scary stuff for anyone to do but a business leader? Dangerous.
Even the best short term decision makers, if forced into a gauntlet of short term decisions, will struggle to insure at the end of the gauntlet they have kept walking northwards as they had been looking down the entire time. More often than not North will not be the direction you are facing nor will you have actually moved any closer to the North star.
I am not suggesting this longer term shared responsibility attitude is easy.
In fact .. it is really really hard.
In fact … it almost means you have to embrace a little “impossible” into what you actually make possible.
In general I have always liked logical thinking <no matter how random the logic may be> but I always love it when someone combines some unexpected logic.
Generally speaking the best unexpected logic actually comes from those who do the impossible … thinking of the impossible and seeing possibilities — the impossible being “knowing for sure what will happen in the future.” They make the spectacular leaps/chances, accepting responsibility and sharing responsibility, so that business can make the needed changes or just do the semi-risky things that keep a good business doing good things <things that may push against the borders of the status quo>.
Spectacular errors can only happen if you take spectacular chances. I am not fond of irresponsible risk taking and decision-making, but I am fond of doing ‘the right thing’ even when it may appear to be going against the stream. Sometimes that means a spectacular success, sometimes a spectacular error. But always something spectacular.
And I will tell you … what more could you want to say about your life as a leader but that you have done something spectacular? Especially if that ‘spectacular’ actually happens a generation later which permits you to sit back and say “I did the impossible … I viewed the future well.’
Shared responsibility is the burden of any good leader. They tend to be the leaders who understand they cannot really be sure what is going to happen to them over time, they weigh the risks to the best of their ability and let the chips fall as they may.
I tend to believe their attitude is one of “you don’t want to act more fearfully than you have to.”
Good leaders have a tendency to hold themselves accountable for anything, everything and everyone … in varying degrees depending on the anything, everything and everyone. And, maybe most importantly, I tend to believe they understand that there is a relationship between shared responsibility and personal responsibility.
And, practically speaking, you will never be viewed as a true leader if you do not.
You know what?
To end this thing today … let me offer two other words, typically associated with responsibility, obligation and duty.
Obligation refers general to something you are compelled to do by regulation, law, promise or morality. I think good leaders feel obligated to assume shared responsibility.
Duty, more so than obligation, springs from an internal moral or ethical impulse rather than from external demands.
I think good leaders feel a duty to assume shared responsibility.
Shared responsibility … not only do I believe we should discuss it more often <because it will foster better value in personal responsibility> but I also believe we should be demanding it of our leaders more often.