Cutting the ribbon of guilt

Nowadays, mostly because of better media, the public gets a front seat in watching organizations of any type (public or private, governmental or corporate, legit or illegal) crumble under various accusations regarding the way these organizations function.  People want justice or revenge, prevention or reparation (moral and financial).

In trying to make sense of the cause and effect of such accusations, I would simply ask myself and you a simple (?) question:

Is the top manager the ultimate and sole responsible for whatever happens under his “command”?

I can almost hear your reply: “Of course, he is!!! After all that is why he is paid the big bucks!”

Big pay and little responsibility are circumstances seldom found together.

Napoleon Hill




If some of you are managing other people, maybe you would not jump so quickly to this conclusion.  You, as manager, have people presumably working as a team for the accomplishment of certain objectives you are responsible for in the eyes of your own managers. Your responsibilities are two fold: on one hand you are responsible for your own personal contribution (in whatever shape or form that may be), and on the other hand you are deemed to be responsible for the individual contribution of each and every one of your subordinates.  However your subordinates are also responsible for their own individual share of value added to the team they are part of.

It is clear now that for any mistake made by one of your subordinates there are two responsibilities: his and yours.  How do you split the blame?

In the military I assume (I’m just a civilian) that this split of responsibilities is not something that is of serious concern for the high ranks.  The answer is clear: the mistake always pertain to the subordinate that didn’t obey the order.  Martial courts indict specific people for clearly stated insubordination, while the entire chain of commanding officers is unaffected.

How about the civilian world?  Here we deal with levels of authority/competence.  Each person is allotted a certain area of responsibility for which proportionate authority must be granted.  Official documents are always full of signatures carefully lining up specific names and roles of people who agree with or at least acknowledge the impact of their explicit participation.  That is how committees work, that is how contracts are signed.  If something goes wrong, the blame is jointly assumed and most of the times no one in particular has to take the shot.  It’s called collective responsibility and it seems to be a compromise to remain.

There are plenty of recommendations on how to get out of trouble cheaply and fast. Most of them come down to this: Deny your responsibility.

Lyndon B. Johnson





We know there are instances when one member of this brotherhood of responsibility does (have to) take the blame and exposed for the general public to see.  Why?  Because the organization in question cannot afford a halt in its decision making process and instead it prefers to pay the price of sacrificing somebody.  Usually anybody that is expendable.  The collective body of decision will then repair the links affected by the scandal and together keep on supporting the show that must go on.

The question remains:  Who is responsible?  The one that actually commits the misdemeanor or the one who to ought to supervise?  What do you think?