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Character Issues: Responsibility — its apparent demise

28Sep 2008

Just some musings and observations from the past week– from the news, working with some businesses, and some reading.

It appears that the character quality of responsibility is slowly (?) disappearing from at least some parts of our culture.  It is an odd experience — on the one hand, to be dealing with businesses and managers where they are all about responsibility — both giving it and expecting it from managers, sales people, and employees at all levels.  While on the other hand, to see “leaders” (I use the term loosely) who seem to spend most of their time and effort in avoiding responsibility — making excuses, but mainly blaming others.

And what is really interesting is that many seem to be attempting to place “responsibility” on institutions (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac), career categories (mortgage brokers, investment bankers), political parties (“its the fault of …Republicans, …Democrats”), even laws (“its due to the repeal of the … Act).  Funny.  I thought individuals made choices and complete actions.

Similarly, it appears that many of today’s leaders want to take responsibility for “fixing” other people’s mistakes (at least that is the claim on the front end of a decision to be implemented over time, with the actual results to be determined).  And even the general populace (or maybe it is the media’s presentation of the populace) seem to want someone else to fix problems.  But rarely do I hear individuals stepping up and saying, “I was wrong. . . I misjudged the situation and had an error in judgment. . . I made a mistake.”

Why is this?  Fear of being sued?  Being afraid of public embarrassment?  People not really believing they did anything wrong?

And yet in business settings in which I am working, I consistently have seen individuals who have “messed up” and who admit it, apologize, and attempt to rectify the situation.  Now, interestingly, an apparent difference is that it is clear who made the decision or committed the action.  And also, members of the system in which they function hold them accountable — and “call them” on their mistake.

So maybe one factor we need to work towards in the “public sector” (in this case, government) is to clarify when a decision is made and who is responsible.  But the challenge seems to lie in the fact that, many times, in government it takes multiple parties to make and implement a decision (the Senate, the House of Representatives, the President).  So when multiple parties are involved, does that mean no one is responsible?  Or, conversely, does it actually mean that all parties who are involved are responsible (my current position).

It is just that the juxtaposition is stark.  In small to medium businesses (I think it may be different in larger corporations), doing “business” means making and implementing decisions, taking risks, and managing the results.  And if you make a poor decision (or fail to implement a good decision), you experience the consequence.  In the public sector of government, the whole process and concept seems foreign, even counter-cultural.

For me, until the practice of being able to hold public officials (or those within large business organizations) accountable for decisions made and actions taken, I have little hope of good decisions being made and implemented (“good decisions” being ones with that have positive results).

I am open to your thoughts and comments (just click on the title of the blog and it will send you to the comment section OR go to www.drpaulwhite.com/blog and scroll down to the comment section).

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