“We want people to be accountable. They shouldn’t wait for the executive team to tell them what to do. They should help each other navigate the constant change and uncertainty our company faces.” When I hear executives say things like this, I am optimistic. That’s exactly what global companies require: leaders who understand the need for distributed responsibility and locally anchored ownership. It’s those qualities that bring better results and greater employee satisfaction.
But simply understanding the need for distributed responsibility is not sufficient if leaders don’t understand what it means to demonstrate responsibility themselves. One way of demonstrating responsibility is through the process of asking and answering questions. Many get at least one part of the process right: by responding to the questions received from their employees, leaders believe that they are showing themselves to be reliable and trustworthy. This isn’t too far off base. The word responsibility, after all, stems from the Latin respons, meaning respond or answer to. Unfortunately, by not asking questions themselves, leaders prevent employees from demonstrating the same kind of reliable and trustworthy behavior—and that makes it harder to embed the locally owned responsibility that they are looking for.
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