Leadership Series (34): Why Leaders Must Take Responsibilities In Failures. By Victor A. Imhangbe

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“The price of greatness,” “is responsibility.” Something the all of us facing tough times need to remember. Winston Churchill.

My mentor and brother taught me this “there is a big difference between being poor and being responsible as human beings”. “Respons-Ability”; simply means your ability to respond when the need arises. Conversely put it; you are not expected to be financially buoyant to be responsive to challenges as some people are fond of attributing inability to act as a result of poor financial condition. Behavioural scientists teach us that the first step in recovery is an acknowledgement of responsibility. But sadly too few executives are holding themselves accountable. This is not only bad for the economy. It sets a bad standard to younger managers and those about to become managers. Forget your formal and informal education; what you might have learned in school and what your parents taught you, these executives seem to say, do what you want to do and deny responsibility.

It is often the case for leaders to crave and take responsibilities for popular ideology that leads to success from a decision they are directly involved. Unfortunately, such is not always the case when such decision leads to failure. What is common in a scenario like this; is apportioning blames on their aids. As the saying goes, “failure is an orphan”, this should not be the case in leadership.

Let us read the below excerpt:

It was caused by forces out of our control. That line is not from a 1950s sci-fi movie in reference to aliens taking over the world. Rather it seems to be the assessment of many senior leaders in the financial services industry as to the causes of the economic meltdown.

“Nobody was prepared for this” is what Robert Rubin, a senior official at Citigroup, told the Wall Street Journal. “Maybe there are things, in context of the facts (the board) knew then, we should have done differently,” Rubin admits. Not acting “differently,” however, caused Citigroup to lose $20 billion over the past year and to receive $45 billion in federal assistance. Although Rubin turned down his 2007 bonus, he has earned $115 million from Citigroup since joining the firm in 1999. As for “regrets,” Rubin told the Journal, “I guess I don’t think of it quite that way… If you look back from now, there’s an enormous amount that needs to be learned.”

Excerpt from John Baldoni: “Failure to Accept Responsibility is a Failure to Lead”

The next key to leadership success is the ability to ease the burden of responsibility from the followers, so that they can solely focus on their tasks and goals. While there are many people that can peak performance while being stressed and having a huge responsibility, others might not be able to do so. In fact: a lot of employees can achieve better results, when not having the burden of responsibility on their shoulders. Therefore, a good and responsible leader should not only take responsibilities when things are rosy, but also take responsibilities in time of failure or crisis.

It is prerequisite on leaders to view the new ever-global business entity in which we work and the corresponding changes to business as a “call to action.”  That action must start with taking full responsibility for the success and failures of the people in the organisation. In real life, it is common with most leaders to indulge in self-praise especially when a target is attained; when in fact it is the employees that assiduously work towards actualising the set goals. On the other hand, when there are problems or difficulties in getting the desire outcome, the same leader will quickly put the blames on the subordinates.

I would like to use this medium to disabuse the minds of the reader not to equate faults and responsibility as same. This is pertinent by recognising the difference between fault and responsibility; we can eschew the blame game and take ownership of difficult problems. While brainstorming with my classmate during my post graduate programme. Our discussion was focused on a case study   whether an executive was to blame for a problem in his company and whether fixing it was his responsibility. It was at that point I realises that we were having problems distinguishing the different between fault and responsibility. This confusion was going on until a classmate pointed out to us “There’s a big difference between fault and responsibility. It is worth noting that fault is a backward looking, while responsibility is a forward looking. It is in light of this; a leader may be responsible for a situation even if it’s not his fault. “The blame doesn’t matter.” Often, we have to deal with situations for which we’re not at fault. This is so because fixating on blame delays taking corrective action and inhibits target. Focusing on responsibility offers a sense of peace for someone leading a group, because at the end of the day, what matters is achievement, not the energy wasted trying to investigate the person that was at fault.

In 2011, one of the darling of automotive world; Honda has taken a number of wrong decision which find itself being slammed by a series of challenges ranging from lopsided exchange rates to earthquakes in Japan and flooding in Thailand.

Honda was in deep mess due to the controversial and frequently criticized design of the latest Honda Civic, which has been slammed by such traditionally Honda-friendly folks as Consumer Reports magazine.

During a small media round table during the Tokyo Motor Show; the CEO Takanobu Ito took “ultimate responsibility” for at least one of the most serious of those problems. According to Ito, “the need to respond to the criticism of the Civic: which is expected to result in an unusually quick update of the compact line – “also rests with me and we are working out what responses to take as quickly as possible”.

The above scenario portrays the true meaning of leader taking responsibility when something has gone wrong. The CEO may not have been the direct personnel that supervise the design or the direct cause of the defects, but he came out to take responsibility. In the word of John Coleman; the origination of the failed concept was of no significance. All that mattered was claiming ownership of the issue and charting a path forward. Honda quickly followed up by announcing a new release for 2013, a year ahead of the original plan. In the words of executive vice president John Mendel, “…the comments of Consumer Reports and our customers have not gone unnoticed. We are appropriately energized.”

Benefits You Will Gain As Leader For Taking Responsibility

Articulate and smart leaders stand firm to their decisions, actions, words and the consequences whether they are; good or bad; and by so doing, they reap the benefits of taking responsibility. When you take responsibility for your action, Jennifer Wilson: provide the below six significant benefits you’ll gain:

1. Different: Sadly, most people avoid taking responsibility for negative outcomes whenever possible. When you choose to say, “I own this mistake,” or “I made a poor decision” or any other statement of personal responsibility, superiors, subordinates and clients will take notice because it happens so rarely.

2. Coach-able: Powerful leaders are willing to invest in those they feel are coach-able. You’ll demonstrate “coachability” when you admit that you don’t know something, need to improve and are willing to listen and learn. When you take responsibility for your performance and admit that you can improve (and we can all always get better!), then you open yourself up to coaching and support from others.

3. Trusted: When people notice that you’ve taken personal responsibility, they will experience a positive feeling about you. That feeling is the beginning of trust because taking responsibility for a mistake or a poor result illustrates a degree of honesty that others truly respect. And, when those who may have contributed to the poor result realize that you aren’t going to throw them under the bus to save yourself, they’ll admire your dignity and courage. Honesty, respect, dignity, courage and trust … sound like a leader, doesn’t it?

4. Growing and changing: People who take personal responsibility usually follow the statement “I own this mistake” with “and here’s what I could do differently next time.” And, if you don’t know what you can do differently initially, undertake research, ask those with more experience and evaluate other options to gain information, see another perspective or generate new ideas that lead to better performance that will leads to your personal growth.

5. More powerful: Most of us fear taking responsibility, admitting shortcomings or asking for help because we fear that it will open us up to criticism, politics and risk. While it is true that some may take advantage of your vulnerability and “kick you when you’re down,” this is the exception. Instead, taking responsibility for our actions can be very empowering. Doing so enables us to leave behind the effort that denial or deflection takes and to focus that energy instead on new behaviours that will produce a successful outcome in the future. When you take responsibility, all of the power to improve and succeed lies with you. When you blame others, you have no power to change future circumstances because you allow yourself to believe that “other people” have to change for things to improve.

6. Followed: Great leader’s model expected behaviours. When a leader admits fallibility, their teammates realise that it’s acceptable to do so and that when you do, the world (or your career) doesn’t come to an end. When you take personal responsibility for your actions and outcomes, you will make it culturally acceptable to do so and establish a pattern that others are likely to follow. In life and work, you cannot control the decisions, actions, words or outcomes of others, but you can take 100% responsibility for your own. Some tips for doing so:

POINT TO NOTE:

When something goes wrong, ask, “What could I have done differently?” before you ask, “Whose fault is this?” Take immediate responsibility when things you own or are assigned are off track. Acknowledge it as soon as possible and commit to make changes to bring things back into alignment. Regularly assess yourself, your performance and your knowledge and establish short-term and long-term goals to continually improve. If you’re really brave, ask your superiors, subordinates and clients what they would like to see you improve or do next.

We tend to know who is a true leader on their readiness to accept responsibility in time of failure, while false leaders blame. If you are a leader that involved in self-praise when a task is accomplished; you should be strong enough to take responsibility at any event the opposite is the case. Your opinion and feedback is appreciated on the comment column. Do you like the piece? It’s always good to share.

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