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Personal responsibility

Posted by A Friend on 27 January 2009 When things go wrong at work, how quickly and how often do we blame the leader or the manager for the disaster? How often do we use or hear the terms “failure of leadership” or “failure of management” associated with workplace follies?

We encounter these terms regularly in our practice. And when we query people why that is the case, we often hear such reasoning as “They get all the credit for success even when all they do is delegate work, it is only fair that they should cop the blame for failure.” Such statement would have sounded logical, if only the argument was not delivered with a hint of management disdain.

We do not subscribe to the idea that leaders or managers should get all the credit for successful outcomes. Neither do we believe that they should absorb all the flack for unsuccessful ones. Rather, we are a strong believer of taking personal responsibility with everything that one is involved in.

We believe that each individual, regardless of their position in an organization, needs to look at themselves first before pointing the finger at anybody else when an undesirable outcome occurs. They must ask themselves first whether they did all they could to ensure a successful result before even contemplating the assignment of blame on others.

Take for example the case of Robert, a quality manager who felt as though he was forced to leave his previous job because of his boss’s seeming undermining of his work.

Robert used to work in a facility led by an offsite manager. The manager worked only a short distance from the site, but he would only pay Robert and his team a visit on average once every ten days.

Robert felt at best under appreciated and at worst targeted by this manager:

    A lot of the manager’s infrequent surprise visits to the site immediately followed a negative report that Robert filed; and 75 per cent of the time, Robert would only know of these visits from colleagues, after the fact.

    Robert felt that this manager deliberately undermined his productivity by burying him in paperwork with stringent and unnecessary requirements for detailed daily reports.

    Robert received reprimands in various instances when he initiated continual improvement initiatives (“Who gave you the authority?” was the oft-asked killer question), even when such initiatives clearly showed positive results in his department.

The lack of management, communication, and positive feedback was very demoralizing to Robert; and a strong argument could certainly be mounted about his boss’s lack of management capability, and even some signs of workplace bullying.

But then, we also asked Robert: “What actions did you take to resolve this perceived conflict with your boss?” Not surprisingly, Robert admitted that he did not do much. Robert said that he made some cursory effort to properly communicate with his boss, but he also quickly gave up when he was not getting his desired response.

Robert’s case and his actions and reactions are typical of people who are quick to accept their “sad plight” but are not too quick to see that there are in fact so many things under their direct control and influence that they can still do to rectify their situation.

In the workplace, people often feel bogged down by structures and bureaucracy and culture and politics that they find it hard to see opportunities that are available to them. They often only see restrictions and roadblocks and fail to consider that one of the most powerful first steps in seeing possibilities is recognizing limitations.

Robert’s boss might in fact have had targeted and bullied him into resigning. It would be easy for Robert to quickly point the finger at his manager as the antagonist in this sorry saga considering the evidence, but we believe that would also be a cop out.

Instead of wondering about people’s politics and motivations around him, Robert should have first looked at himself to see whether there were things that he could have done to improve matters and made sure he did them.

Robert would dearly want to be able to say that he did the best he could in the situation that he was in. But he did not, so he cannot.

In this instance, Robert is just as responsible as his manager in causing the management process to fail.


8 Responses to “Personal responsibility”

  1. Geheris said

    Good post, about workplace relations and attitude towards management. Workplace environments have a nasty tendancy of devolving into competing ambitions and envy, which benefit none of the parties involved and only stifle business.

    Good post!

  2. Great way of putting it down in print. I do agree that taking action is upon each person’s head. With that said, some times you can try and try again to make things work only to have it fail anyway. As long as you have put your 100% effort into it, then you have done your job.

  3. A Friend said

    Robin – Thanks, this is precisely our point. Specifically, we suggested to Robert that all he could do is to be able to say that he has done the best that he coud in the situation that he was in, with the resources that he had. The caveat is you can’t put the blame on others until you can truly tell yourself that you have done your best.

  4. Kadmiel said

    This is a very well thought out and articulate article about personal accountability in the workplace environment and i enjoyed reading it as well. I think your insight from this perspective is great please keep it up. People need this kind of information now more than ever.

  5. markwpickering said

    Great article. I strongly believe that you should always take responsibility for your own life, both in and out of work, but I have to say, the number of incapable people that are elevated into management is scary and if you are unfortunate to work under one such clown then your working life can become unbearable.

  6. […] Personal responsibility […]

  7. […] Friend presents Personal responsibility posted at Literal Thinking. “This article presents a case about taking personal […]

  8. […] get our name out there. So far, we have two blog posts published in carnival editions: our post on personal responsibility was included in the February edition of the leadership development carnival, and our post on […]

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