I think your first responsibility is to your “Self”. I don’t mean being selfish and amassing hoards of wealth or privilege. I mean taking the time to look after your own health and well-being. The people you lead will expect you to be at your best and you can’t discharge your responsibilities to them unless you are in good shape. If you don’t do this no one else will.
Next are the communities and customers entangled with your organisation. The excesses of the banking industry have highlighted what happens when you lose sight of society. Whether your business strategy is primarily driven by customer service, innovation or operational efficiency – the end result has to be a benefit for the communities and people you serve. . I think you have a great responsibility for keeping everyone focused on this purpose. So when your employees slip some horse meat into the burger mix, I’m afraid it is down to you.
You of course have a responsibility to your shareholders. This might manifest itself as a keen eye on the share price, but the value of the organisation is much more than its stock value. What will you have to change or build to keep the company vibrant and alive? Are you prepared to drive profit at any cost or do your ethics suggest a more balanced approach? David Cameron recently said “It’s time we admitted there is more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but GWB – general well-being”.
I have left the most important responsibility to last. The responsibility you have to those who follow you. Let me ask you a question first.
Are you responsible to your people? Or are you responsible for them?
I often see respected leaders who take a very paternal view. They may bark a bit, but underneath they care deeply about their people and strive hard to look after them. I think this model has worked well and I wonder if it is the best way forward.
Do we really need to be kept safe and protected? Or is it better that we have room to make mistakes so that we can learn and grow. Taking a parental stance is hard work. It is demanding having lots of people depend on you. I guess the payback is the pleasure of doing a responsible job and perhaps being needed.
“Relaxing the grip of control makes life easier and can make living harder”
Living is harder because the issue of “Trust” goes to the top of the list. Do you trust yourself to let go and do you trust your people to honour their part in the deal. The problem is that the more you try to control the outcome the more responsibility you take for what people do. When you take responsibility, they don’t. When they submit to your control, they are diminished and no one benefits.
“Every time I do something for you that you could do for yourself, I am denying you the opportunity to grow”
This is not an easy problem to resolve. The pressure to “get a grip” and show you are in charge is high. Many are intolerant of a more relaxed approach because they don’t understand. Many of your people will want you to take responsibility for them. It makes their life much easier.
I suspect the answer lies in your values and sense of purpose as a leader. All I can do is bring these issues to your attention and leave you to decide what kind of leader you really want to be – Responsible for or to?