I think it would be fair to say that behaving responsibly is a primary characteristic for successful leaders. Yet many leaders seem to get caught up in thinking about the power of their positions rather than the responsibility of the position. Jack Zenger, a renowned leadership author, notes that he remains surprised that much of the recent literature on leadership and management overlooks the critical characteristic of responsibility. In an article titled “Taking responsibility is the Highest Mark of Great Leaders”, Zenger talks about how a person’s willingness to be responsible is often one of the key factors in that person becoming a great leader.
In my mind, responsible leadership is about adopting a mindset that requires us to take full responsibility for the performance and behaviours of those that we lead (both the good and the bad). It means making informed decisions and judgements; having the courage to bring about change and actively seeking feedback from those that we lead. While it is evident that we need to display these characteristics while leading our direct reports, the responsible leader also seeks to influence and lead their supervisor and peers.
The traits that responsible leaders consistently display are:
1. Caring. Responsible leaders recognise that it is not about them – it is about those that they lead. They build strong relationships based on a genuine concern for their well-being. They look out for them, nurture them and take care of them. Responsible leaders create environments where their people are safe, trusted, listened to and able to contribute. These types of behaviours do not stop leaders making the tough decisions. They simply define the manner in which they make and communicate those tough decisions.
2. Build Trust. Trust is the foundation of every relationship. Responsible leaders understand that trust arrives on the back of the tortoise and departs on the back of the hare. In other words, it does not arrive with their new title, it must be earned over time through the display of consistent behaviours that demonstrate their integrity, their competence and their commitment to the success of those around them. The building of trust will take time, effort, diligence and character and can bring great results when you have established that trust. It can also be easily shattered with one careless action or word. So take the time to build trusting relationships that drive stronger engagement and better bottom line results.
3. Act Decisively. Responsible leaders act decisively, they do not wait to be told to act. They see an issue and take action. They claim ownership of the issue and choose not to focus on who caused the issue, but how the issue can be resolved. Once the issue had been resolved, the situation can be reviewed to determine the causes, levels of accountability and most importantly, what adjustments need to be made to ensure that the situation is not repeated into his future.
4. Seek Feedback. We all understand the need for honest and timely feedback; but how many leaders actually actively seek feedback? Accurate, timely and sometimes critical feedback is necessary if we are to grow, build trust and work together to solve issues. Leaders can get this feedback through regular confidential surveys, informal gatherings, town hall meetings or simply by walking the floor. However the feedback is gathered, the responsible leader uses the information to adjust their behaviours to better meets the needs of those that they serve.
Leading a team of people towards the achievement of a common vision and a set of agreed goals is a challenging responsibility. But it is immensely rewarding when it is done effectively and in a responsible manner. Successful leaders care for their people, build trust, act decisively and regularly seek feedback to ensure they are providing the responsible leadership that their teams, their peers and the supervisors deserve. As Robert L Joss, former CEO and Managing Director of Westpac said, ‘Real leadership is not about prestige, power or status. It is about responsibility.’