Satellite saga shows the value of taking responsibility

I am fuming. I just came off the phone to a prominent provider of satellite television, not the first time in recent weeks. In fact, the as yet-unresolved saga has thus far involved 3 scheduled engineer visits involving missing parts or missing engineers; 4 promised phone calls that never arrived; 3 unanswered and unreturned phone calls to an engineer; 9 completed phone calls speaking to a total of 11 people and lasting a cumulative 337 minutes; and countless broken promises over the course of 3 months.

Deep breath.

Most of these people blamed the problems on someone or something else: “It’s not what my sheet says” / “Another team is responsible for that” / “Somebody must have put the notes in wrong”. Four others claimed they would “take responsibility” for the issue and get back to me personally.

I probably would have forgiven all their sins if someone had actually followed through with their promises to take responsibility and try to resolve the issues. But they didn’t.

This question of taking responsibility is equally true in corporate communications. When a business has failed in one way or another, it is often the natural reaction of leaders to point out a variety of external or historical causes, deflecting responsibility in doing so. These reasons may have some validity but for a business leader, a total refusal to acknowledge responsibility can send out the wrong message to shareholders, employees and other stakeholders.

Accepting responsibility, on the other hand, can be a powerful message. It helps employees feel protected and lets them know that taking ownership is a good behaviour to adopt. It conveys to shareholders or commentators that a leader has the courage to accept failings and learn from them – a cultural trait noticeably missing from several well-documented collapsed businesses where failure was not tolerated, resulting in employees avoiding situations where they risked making mistakes from which they could have learned and developed. A Harvard Business Review study confirms that strong CEOs assume personal responsibility when things go bad in their businesses.

The principle holds true in other fields of leadership. Just recently, the communicative power of taking responsibility was evident when Leeds United manager Garry Monk took sole responsibility for the loss of an FA Cup fixture to non-league Sutton United due to the 10 team changes he made. He received instant respect from the pundits instead of the criticism levelled at other managers who had made similar wholesale changes.

Taking responsibility shows courage, a trait that inspires people to follow and stay loyal. Who knows, if my satellite TV provider shows a bit of that, I might even stay loyal to them.

Written by Ian Morris, Director

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