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Leadership responsibilities: flying your flag

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I’m writing from the UK and so it’ll be no surprise that my focus this week is the ‘responsibilities of leadership’.  Further developments include the resignation and subsequent arrest of former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks and the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, both in connection with the journalist hacking and alleged payments to the police, scandal.  As my late father worked for the Diplomatic Protection Squad and outside 10 Downing Street, I’m personally outraged that their reputation is being undermined by today’s leaders. 

It’s not just here in the UK that this is recognised as an important issue; a recent blog hosted by the Harvard Business Review looks at the complexities of this.  Here in the LeadershipZone we’re about making the complex business of leadership simpler – ‘leadership one day at a time” – and we do this by having a weekly leadership theme on this blog and share bite-sized ideas on our tweets.

The dictionary definition of ‘responsibility’ is something like: “The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something”.  So a leader is someone we can hold to account – typically for the effectiveness or performance of the people they lead, but in today’s world, for their proper conduct as well.  The author of the HBR blog refers to this as a leaders ‘moral bearings’.

So if, as a leader, you’re accountable for the proper conduct of your people, how can you you ensure this?  The simple, and possibly unpalatable answer is that you can’t – not 100%.  Attempts to do so will lead to a ‘command and control’ style of leadership in the old mould – and the kind of pushback that we’re seeing against these kind of leaders.

Given peoples’ levels of education and the autonomy they typically expect in today’s western democracies, efforts to control people aren’t going to work – however much us control freaks would like it to…

A different approach is to look at inspiring personal responsibility and self-regulation – with the aim of promoting confidence in you and your team. I call this flying your flag.

what's the flag you want to fly?

It starts with values:

  • What do you, as an organisation or a team, really stand for?

Clear boundaries around your values lead to expectations around behaviours:

  • What kind of behaviours are expected from a team that upholds these values?

Then there’s the issue of public credibility:

  • How will people know that you’re a successful, professional and credible team?

When I work with teams I start with three fundamental measures:

  1. Performance – delivering successfully

    leadership values

  2. Positivity – a good team ethic
  3. Credibility – a profesional public image

These mean different things to different teams, but within the team there’s typically broad agreement as to what that means for them.

Depending on the circumstances we run through a number of different exercises, but these often result in the team creating a ‘team charter’, a flag or coat of arms to represent what they stand for.  By being clear and proud about what a team does stand for, it also becomes clear about what a leader will not stand for – what’s in and what’s out.

People like fairness and equity; they’re more willing to take personal responsibility when they see the same treatment applied to others around them – including their leaders.  We don’t like hypocrisy or unfairness: which is probably why we enjoy watching the fall from grace of former leaders who said one thing in public and did another in private.

So the good  news about responsibility is that it’s shared: every team member can contribute to being accountable – not just for what they do, but how they do it – and what values they’re upholding as they do it.


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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