Where does the Buck Stop?
One of the many challenges for our participants is understanding different cultural conceptions of leadership and in particular responsibility and accountability. One of the key cultural differentiators is that of Individual (where accountability is commonly associated with specific persons) versus Group (where it is is more often diffused amongst a team or organization).
Since many of our clients work within Western multinationals, which tend to come from individualistic cultures such as the US and UK, there is frequently a focus on the positives of the former rather than the latter. But there are benefits associated with both.
A good example of the different approaches that this gives rise to have been the varying responses to two recent disasters this week in North America – the crash of the Korean Asiana flight at San Francisco airport, and the railcar explosion in Quebec.
Korean culture is very group oriented and the immediate response of the Asiana CEO was to publicly apologize for the accident and take responsibility for it, even though it was clearly caused by pilot error in which he played no part. On the other hand, the US CEO of the railway company involved has apparently publicly blamed the train driver and accused him of lying about having left the brakes on – even though this ‘fact’ has yet to be confirmed by the accident review board.
Arguably the Korean approach is better suited to avoiding the ‘blame game’ which frequently follows physical and financial disasters – such as the Ocean Deepwater fire and the Enron crash – and thus enabling organizations to quickly learn from and eradicate mistakes.
It is also important for our participants to realise that in ‘Group-based’ cultures the failings of a team and/or department are the responsibility of the leader, not the team. The perceived inability of many group-based cultures to take risks is often associated with lack of clarity around this fact.
So where does the ‘buck’ stop* in your team?
(*Colloquial US expression: ‘where the buck stops’ is ‘where responsibility lies’)
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