Modern organizational theory often describes a distributed model of leadership, one that encourages earnest dialogue between organizational levels, true collaboration, and the ability for employees to initiate change when and where it needs to be made. All these factors are shown to encourage a culture that promotes a strong sense of pride and employee empowerment, leading not only to a higher level of job satisfaction, but also a more functional and productive organization, even when considering the increase in meeting time that frequently comes with these models. There is another factor in a functional and productive organization that sometimes get overlooked in the effort to flatten a hierarchy and reduce some of the limitations of a traditional "top-down" management structure: the leader's willingness to take responsibility.
At times, organizational leaders can be so focused on maintaining relationships and minimizing their own leadership role that they can limit their organization's success as a result. Most people with a lengthy work history can think of at least one supervisor who didn't bear the burden of leadership easily. Some will avoid all challenging conversations. Some will divert blame away from themselves toward collective agreements, the staff or parent committee who gave input, the central office, or the policy manual. Some will go straight to citing budgetary constraints as a way to side-step responsibility for an unpopular choice and keep difficult decisions from sticking to them. This Teflon-like quality in leaders does not inspire staff confidence and can quickly erode morale. Note the response to this manager's style in this humorous FedEx commercial:
It is essential that leaders be willing to take responsibility for any decisions that turn out to be ineffective or unpopular rather than distancing themselves. Responsibility also means being willing to hunker down and actually do the work. It means having those tough conversations with difficult clients or colleagues. It means establishing and holding firm to your organization's non-negotiables. It means persuading others through logic and inspiration. It means publicly acknowledging that if you didn't know, as a leader it was your job to know. It means striving to behave in a manner that justifies your position and compensation to the other members of your team. It means closing the gap between what you say and what you do. This principal I interviewed for my thesis years ago summed up my notion of sticky leadership in his school. He said:
“Well, the bottom line rests with the principal. I’m the one that ultimately has the responsibility and is most accountable.”
Even though his school culture was collaborative and staff demonstrated that they felt empowered, he was very clear who was responsible for his organization and everyone in it. So ask yourself on a regular basis: Are being responsible? Are you carrying your share of the load? Are you walking the walk?Are you sticky?