Is it okay to blame your employees when things go wrong?

The News Corp saga is unfolding with amazing twists and turns. Rupert Murdoch has described the day he spoke at the UK parliamentary committee into phone hacking at the News of the World as the “most humble day” of his life. And while he apologised to the victims of the hacking, Murdoch has still displayed an unwillingness to take responsibility for the actions of his staff. When asked who was responsible for the fiasco he answered, “The people that I trusted to run it and the people they trusted.”

While we’ve seen the role of the media scrutinised in an unprecedented way, if a leader is responsible for setting an organisation’s culture, surely the buck stops at the top? Or does it? Isn’t it a leader’s responsibility to take the blame for hiring decisions and the actions of the team, however large? From someone who controls 70 percent of Australia’s newspapers, and is firmly in a leadership role, is this a sign times are changing? In our modern world, does the buck no longer stop with the boss?

Murdoch appeared this week as an aged, tired, highly opinionated businessman with hearing and memory difficulties, someone who is used to having his own way and being in control. Like most at the top of their game, he would be difficult to stand up to – it’s his way or the highway. Flying off in his private jet, he must be questioning his level of trust and control over his companies. Or is he? Is it possible for a man to have such an eye for detail and not to have known what was going on? That is for the inquiry to find out.

But from a work culture point of view, the fact remains that Murdoch employs thousands of people. The pressure has always been to be the first to break the news before competitors. There are no prizes for coming second. He has managed high-performing news titles that in their time have become national icons. So can you shirk responsibility as the person at the top, for inexcusable cultural behaviour? Or have we given the media carte blanche to find the real story and tread over the line.

I’ve listened to a wide variety of views this week, some damning some conciliatory. Travelling back through time it is interesting to read what historical leaders have said on the responsibility of leadership.

Former US president Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Former NFL coach Tom Landry, said, “Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control.” And Julius Caesar said, “If you must break the law, do it to seize power. In all other cases observe it.” Interesting!

 

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