Archive - October 2023

Responsibility - and hedgehogs

Imbalance in the way responsibility is used (and not used) in systems of all sorts, including organisations, is large-scale and widespread. Too much responsibility may be assumed (albeit unconsciously). This shows up with leaders who work hard to make sure that everything that needs doing is done, typically to a high standard, no matter whose responsibility it actually is. Inappropriate responsibility may be imposed in childhood, and taken on into work, via an expectation from one or other parent. When leaders fail to take on responsibility that is theirs, it may be that they feel inadequate to the task or may fear failing, and may persuade themselves that by not acting they don’t risk failure. Like the hedgehog who freezes in the middle of the road, they are likely to incur failure rather than avoid it. One of the classic situations in which appropriate responsibility is not given is represented by the micromanaging boss. In all these scenarios, both the team and the leader are weakened and become brittle: they lack resilience and the capacity to learn, develop and change as much as they could, and/or as much as they need to.

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The Right Kind of Wrong

Amy Edmondson's new book 'Right Kind of Wrong: Why Learning to Fail Can Teach Us to Thrive' explains how we get failure (a potentially invaluable learning opportunity) wrong, and how to get it right, highlighting that the most successful organisational cultures are those in which you can fail openly, without your mistakes being held against you. We're living in turbulent times, and, as Amy Edmondson points out, failure is both more likely than ever – but if it’s the right kind of failure, it’s also more valuable than ever. While most failures in organisations are treated as blameworthy – and there are failures we should definitely work hard to prevent – there are others we should welcome. The latter are the intelligent failures.

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