Whether it’s an ancient fable, a swashbuckling western, or a modern adventure, the key ingredients are a principled but unassuming hero who finds the strength to step up mixed with the motley crew of followers who put their differences aside to support them all the way.
What makes a good leader? The ability to negotiate, to coach, to drive performance? Perhaps it’s experience, time in the job and specialist knowledge? Or what about resilience, stamina and optimism? All these things are important, but there is another factor that influences whether someone is a good leader: their ability to take responsibility.
So, just what is responsibility? It is roughly defined as having control over someone or something. To ‘have responsibility’ is to have a duty to, or authority or influence over, a person or a thing. In business, leaders have responsibility for teams, for the delivery of projects, for financial outcomes and also for risk management.
Businesses usually run into difficulties if there are lots of ‘leaders’ but no-one taking responsibility. These organisations find themselves falling victim to what we like to call the ‘executive shuffle’; everyone is given a chance to have their say, but no-one is given the job of drawing a line in the sand so the issue gets shuffled from hand to hand until eventually it reaches the very top of the organisation. By this point, the many layers of commentary that have been added during the shuffle may end up diluting the message and ultimately impact the decision maker’s ability to make a decision.
Of course, taking responsibility is more than just making a decision. Because a decision may simply be to pass the problem onto someone else! Picture a folder, passing from hand to hand and desk to desk. Each person that receives the folder reads the contents, but they take no action, other than to pass it to another person. The folder is symptomatic of a culture in which no one is empowered to take responsibility, to own a problem or issue. The folder simply gets passed along to the next person in the hope – or misunderstanding – that it’s someone else’s responsibility.
When someone takes responsibility, they make it clear to others in the organisation that they are going to handle a situation, make decisions to move that situation forward, and are accountable for the outcomes of those decisions.
Do or do not. There is no try.
The Responsible Manager certainly has direct responsibility for deciding what services the organisation provides and how they are delivered, based on the regulatory environment and the organisation’s risk appetite. However, they also play a key role in establishing, monitoring and transforming organisational culture and conduct. They are influencers and negotiators, who drive behaviours through the organisation, because, as we’ve said before, everyone plays a role in maintaining the culture of an organisation.
The most effective businesses understand how to build a culture of responsibility. This is one in which leaders are empowered and supported in their role as decision makers. Everyone within your business needs to understand how and why the organisation operates the way it does.
How, then, does a Responsible Manager wield their power without ending up seduced by the dark side?
A soundly run company entails a dialogue between the wider organisation and its leadership
The organisation must:
Establish a vision and set of values for the business that are the basis for measuring the impact of all decisions, no matter what a person’s role
Invest in quality training for responsible officers, responsible managers, senior executives and board members alike, so that they are all on the same page in relation to their knowledge of industry regulations and standards
Clearly articulate who is responsible for key decisions within the organisation and demonstrate trust in those decision makers
Hold people responsible for poor decisions, inaction or risky behaviour
Ensure all staff know how to identify and report a risk or issue, without fear of retribution. A culture of responsibility is one in which breaches are not viewed as ‘someone else’s problem’ and what is in the best interests of clients is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Read up and read widely – be across what’s happening in the business, in the industry, in the broader community even, so they can feel disturbances in the force or when their ‘spidey senses’ tingle
Review how processes are being applied – non-compliance can be a sign that there is disconnect between regulatory requirements and business rules, and how they’ve been implemented within the organisation
Communicate clearly and transparently – it’s hard to get whole of organisation buy-in when messages are delivered in corporate doublespeak and without context
Get every internal and external document sense checked – whether it’s an internal manual, piece of marketing, or regulated disclosure, the purpose and meaning must be honest and fair
Collaborate with networks – these can range from other leaders inside or outside the organisation, team leaders, frontline staff, and customers.
If any operational mis-step needs rectifying, following these tips leaves Responsible Managers better informed about what details should be metaphorically put in a folder and where that folder should ultimately end up.
Take a closer look at your organisation’s culture. Are you a victim of the executive shuffle, or are your leaders empowered to take responsibility like heroes, emboldened by willingly supportive teams?