Why leaders are responsible for the actions of their teams

Amanda Fajak

Respondents to our recent Managing Behaviours survey showed that there is a collective belief amongst leaders, employees, consumers and shareholders regarding the notion that the leadership of an organisation should be held responsible for the collective behaviour of their employees.

 Leadership responsibility for team management

Whilst the survey found that the vast majority (88%) of respondents agreed that employees who do the wrong thing in an organisation should be accountable for their own actions, they also agreed that it is in fact leaders that should be the ones to take responsibility for these actions if it is behaviour that’s allowed to be repeated again and again (69%). Allowing a behaviour to be repeated without consequence sends a message that is it acceptable, not just to the individual but also to anyone else that is aware of it – such as a team member.

At Walking the Talk, we define culture to be the patterns of behaviour that are encouraged, discouraged, or tolerated by people and systems over time. Tolerating behaviours such as blaming, point-scoring against colleagues or ignoring health and safety practices for example - allows such actions to become part of the day-to-day operations of how individuals within a team operate, and could well encourage others to do the same. What you walk past sets the standard. Not only are these behaviours harmful or dangerous in themselves, they can potentially snowball into larger issues.

Ninety per cent of respondents to our survey were in agreement regarding the notion that leaders are responsible for creating the environment that allows healthy behaviours to flourish – a notion that we at Walking the Talk fully agree with. Leaders shape the context in which their people operate, the behaviours that are allowed to occur and the standards that are set, explicitly and implicitly. Culture gets created in the day-to-day and as such, it is the actions that leaders allow to occur amongst their employees that forms the culture of an organisation.

An example we can give here is regarding collaboration. If an organisation claims that its culture is one of collaboration, but employees are repeatedly allowed to skip key collaborative components in order to fulfil projects on time, then how valid is their claim? If you tolerate low collaboration in certain circumstances, it sends a message that collaboration is a ‘nice-to-have’, rather than an essential behaviour. In many cases, this will have a knock-on effect to the wider team and what see as being acceptable.

The power inherent in a leader’s position amplifies the impact of the messages that they send, meaning that small acts such as this are given amplified status. What leaders encourage, discourage or tolerate sends a strong message to people about how they ought to behave. This is the leadership shadow – it’s important that senior figures are conscious of how theirs is cast.

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