The responsible manager
The global financial crisis of the past two years has triggered an unprecedented debate about managers’ roles. While discussions about managerial performance, CEO pay, and the role of boards have been fierce, scant attention has been paid to managers’ responsibilities.
CK Prahalad, 1941-2010
For the past 33 years, I have ended all my MBA and executive education courses by sharing with participants my perspective on how they can become responsible managers. I acknowledge that they will be successful in terms of income, social status, and influence, but caution that managers must remember that they are the custodians of society’s most powerful institutions. They must therefore hold themselves to a higher standard. Managers must strive to achieve success with responsibility.
My remarks are intended to serve as a spur for people to re-examine their values before they plunge into their daily work routines.
Take a minute to study them:
• Understand the importance of nonconformity. Leadership is about change, hope, and the future. Leaders have to venture into uncharted territory, so they must be able to handle intellectual solitude and ambiguity.
• Display a commitment to learning and developing yourself. Leaders must invest in themselves. If you aren’t educated, you can’t help the uneducated; if you are sick, you can’t minister to the sick; if you are poor, you can’t help the poor.
• Develop the ability to put personal performance in perspective. Over a long career, you will experience both success and failure. Humility in success and courage in failure are hallmarks of a good leader.
• Be ready to invest in developing other people. Be unstinting in helping your colleagues realize their full potential.
• Learn to relate to those who are less fortunate. Good leaders are inclusive, even though that isn’t easy.
Most societies have dealt with differences by avoiding or eliminating them; few assimilate those who aren’t like them.
• Be concerned about due process. People seek fairness—not favors. They want to be heard. They often don’t even mind if decisions don’t go their way as long as the process is fair and transparent.
• Realize the importance of loyalty to organization, profession, community, society, and, above all, family. Most of our achievements would be impossible without our families’ support.
• Assume responsibility for outcomes as well as for the processes and people you work with. How you achieve results will shape the kind of person you become.
• Remember that you are partof a very privileged few. That’s your strength, but it’s also a cross you carry. Balance achievement with compassion and learning with understanding.
• Expect to be judged by what you do and how well you do it—not by what you say you want to do. However, the bias toward action must be balanced by empathy and caring for other people.
• Be conscious of the part you play. Be concerned about the problems of the poor and the disabled, accept human weaknesses, laugh at yourself—and avoid the temptation to play God. Leadership is about self-awareness, recognizing your failings, and developing modesty, humility, and humanity.
Every year, I revisit my notes about the responsible manager, which I first jotted down in 1977. The world has changed a lot since then, but I haven’t found it necessary to change a word of my lecture. Indeed, the message is more relevant today than ever.
Extracted from Harvard Business Review, January 2010
© 2010 HARVARD BUSINESS PUBLISHING
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