Reprinted form December, 2016
A six-year old picks up rocks and begins throwing them in the backyard water feature. “Grandma doesn’t want you to throw rocks in the water,” Grandpa warned.
“Don’t tell Grandma,” replied the six-year old.
We can marvel at the quick-thinking six-year old’s recommendation, but it was Grandpa who committed the faux pas. Not wanting to take responsibility for enforcing a policy of “no throwing rocks in the pond,” Grandpa passed the buck to Grandma.
A more adult correction from Grandpa might have sounded like, “I think it best that you stop throwing rocks in the pond. The rocks could clog the drainage or damage the pump.” That is, Grandpa could take ownership of the correction and explain why.
I observe many parallel, buck-passing actions of less effective leaders. A newly-appointed manager explained to an employee, “Because of your excessive absenteeism, Human Relations requires that I reprimand you.”
In response to requests from front-line managers to provide more vacation time to employees, the Regional Manager said, “The CEO believes that our current policy is very competitive.” An employee denies a customer’s request with, “It’s against company policy.”
Effective leaders understand their organizations’ policies and accept responsibility for executing them; that is, they ‘own’ the policies. For example, “Because of your unexcused absences, consistent with our policy, I’ve decided to write you a reprimand. If you continue to miss work, there could be additional consequences. I don’t want that to happen.”