Quite a confronting question but one absolutely relevant to many workplaces. Great topic written by Joseph Folkman for Forbes:
Several years ago I was having a one-on-one conversation with a leader in an oil and gas company. He seemed discouraged and I asked him what was going on. He said, “A few weeks ago I was invited to go to a meeting with our new CEO to present a proposal. I had frequent conversations with my boss about the proposal and I knew my boss was in full agreement. When the CEO heard my proposal he reacted negatively and even said some disparaging things about me. My boss who had worked with me to create the proposal and was in full agreement said nothing. I have never felt more embarrassed and alone. My boss threw me under the bus and then left me there bleeding. He did not say a word and he has not said anything since.”
Has a boss who wasn’t willing to accept responsibility ever thrown you under the bus? On the other hand, what success do bosses have who are willing to assume responsibility when things go wrong? When we look at innovative managers who rate highly in this area, the expression direct reports use over and over again is, “This person has my back.” When things go wrong they stand and say, “I am responsible! If you’re looking for someone to blame, it’s me.” This kind of behavior created highly innovative organizations and extremely satisfied employees because everyone was willing to take risks.
I was interested in the fallout from managers who act irresponsibly. To understand this issue I looked at assessments from more than 5,000 people on 339 managers. Two items measured the extent to which a manager was responsible:
Takes responsibility for problems and mistakes and encourages others to do the same.
Takes responsibility and owns decisions that are made (whether mine or others).
To understand the impact of irresponsibility we looked at those who receive negative, low, average, good and top quartile ratings on responsibility. We then looked at overall leadership effectiveness and employee engagement. As the graph below clearly demonstrates, leaders who act irresponsibly are rated as very ineffective (5th percentile) and their direct reports have low levels of engagement (17th percentile). Looking further into the data on engagement we found that 59% of direct reports who worked for an irresponsible manager were thinking about leaving the company.
Irresponsible managers who resist taking responsibility assume they are dodging a bullet. As my colleague Jack Zenger and I looked at the data it is clear they dodged nothing. In our opinion the potential negative effects of talking responsibility would be far fewer than the negative effects that result from taking the blame. To understand these negative effects more fully I looked at leaders who scored poorly on responsibility and at the items rated lowest. They were clustered into the following eight themes.
It’s one thing to not be very good at motivating employees, but in this case, managers created negative motivation. Employee felt so abused they were motivated to sabotage. Some felt they’d been taken advantage of and were looking revenge while others (and this is much more common) take out their revenge by doing as little as possible.
2. Lack of Personal Integrity
Irresponsible managers are not seen as honoring commitments or keeping promises. Direct reports question whether they speak the truth and feel these managers can’t be trusted. Often the irresponsible manager will be seen as taking credit for the accomplishments of others. While they resist taking responsibility for problems, when successes occur they step in and take credit……