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Thursday, 5 July 2012

The challenge of responsibility

Over the last few weeks we've seen resignations at the top of Barclays Bank in the U.K. If you're leading people at work, you are responsible for things you can't control. How do you handle that?

It's been fascinating to listen to parts of the conversation between Bob Diamond (former Chief Executive of Barclays) and the Parliamentary Select Committee that he appeared at this week. Much questioning was around whether an instruction was an instruction to his subordinates or not. This sounds like a challenge to improve delegation skills.

Yet even with great delegation skills and perfectly written-up procedures people still make mistakes or do things which seem good at the time but are later seen as wrong. As one of the committee (Labour MP John Mann) commented as he attempted to beat Mr Diamond into submission, the boss is responsible one way or another. This is a "Catch-22" situation. Either the boss is in control of what happened, so he must be responsible for it, or he was not in control in which case he is still responsible because he has failed to set up the necessary management structures.

This can't all be solved by command and control structures, it is about the culture of the organisation and the boss is responsible for that too. We inherit the culture of our organisation, and we reinforce it or seek to change it with our individual character. So the character of the boss is important, and indeed there needs to be a match between the character of any recruit and the culture of the organisation.

I feel that it is important to intentionally set the culture of an organisation when it is founded: so often it is just an extension of the character of the founder. I feel that we should always seek to be faithful to founding culture of the organisation we are part of. However as an organisation grows we may need to improve it or embed it further. If we can't maybe we need to start over. Mr Mann reminded Mr Diamond that the Quakers had founded Barclays on the principles of honesty, integrity, and plain-dealing.

It is our character that determines the action we take in any situation. Whatever position we have in an organisation we can take responsibility for the culture around us because we affect it through our own character.

Is there a match between your character, the results you are seeking to achieve, and the culture or your organisation? What help would you like with this? (Comment below or contact me.) 

Related article by me on the importance of Trust as a part of organisational culture.

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