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Trevor E S Smith | Who Is Responsible?

Published:Sunday | November 26, 2017 | 12:00 AMTrevor Smith

The Situation


Information trickled out from someone who spoke to an agent that there would be a third gate change for our delayed flight. Passengers grew frustrated and testy. I finally made my way to the agent in charge and asked why she did not provide regular updates to all the passengers. She said she had no information.

Others wanted to know if the matter had been escalated, as flights delayed that long had implications that needed to be addressed. She had no access to higher authority at that hour, and the buck stopped with her. The responsibility was hers, but she had no authority to make even basic decisions.


The Problem


This issue is a common problem that takes place in many different areas. There seems to be a lack of deeper appreciation of the role of middle managers, team leaders and supervisory personnel. They often find themselves in the middle of a sandwich between those they are supposed to serve, and circumstances that prevent them from doing so effectively.

Responsibility without authority invites calamity.

Such situations highlight a fundamental leadership flaw related to delegation.

The airline had delegated the care and management of the lives of a planefull of passengers, without respecting the fact that there are different levels of delegation. Further, responsibility and accountability are not transferred in the process of delegation.


The Squeeze


In organisations that are not future-ready, virtually all information flows from the top down. Information is usually in the form of instructions. Team leaders are expected to communicate the instructions in a manner that gets buy-in or at least compliance from their team.

Some leaders fail to realise that the effectiveness of their supervisory personnel is compromised if they are unable to effectively communicate the needs of their team upwards. This is one of the root causes of the growing problem of low employee engagement.

Employees feel that being on the front line or on the factory floor provides them with unique insights. Therefore, when they receive information or are asked to execute tasks in ways that run counter to their hands-on experience, they get frustrated. They are keen to share their expertise but are denied the opportunity.

Many supervisors lose their motivation in those circumstances. They then pass on instructions in terms of, "They said I should tell you ...." They no longer identify with the information and make it clear to the team that they are just messengers who do not necessarily buy-in to what is being conveyed.

Naturally, performance suffers. This prompts misguided leaders to be even more strident in their communications. However, threats and drastic actions only serve to widen the divide. The sandwiched messengers soon get alienated from both sides and the level of dysfunctionality rises to new heights.




This situation is the result of flawed leadership at all levels, especially in the area of communication.


Information Flow


At the upper levels, the top brass must create a culture in which information flow unadulterated, up and down. Training is required in the art of giving and receiving instructions and feedback.


Managing Upwards


All individuals in the leadership chain should be taught how to manage upwards. This involves developing the competence to represent the needs and aspirations of their team to the appropriate decision-makers. Some leaders are like a phone that can make calls but block those coming in.




Leaders need to undergo training and/or reinforcement in the principles guiding delegation. Delegation plays a central role in the operations of organisations and its intricacies are often not understood. Many managers simply delegate the things that they don't like to do.


Call to Action


What is communication like in your organisation?

The Success with People Academy conducts customised employee satisfaction surveys as well as 360 assessments on the revolutionary FinxS Platform from Extended DISC. The process is swift, logistically-friendly and cost-effective, using advanced technology.

PS: Download the publication on 'Future-Ready Leadership'

- Trevor E S Smith and the Success with People Academy team prepare and certify coach mentors and develop high-performing teams. Hire smart with their recruitment solutions. Now enrolling for the January cohort of the ICF/SHRM-accredited Certified Behavioural Coach programme.