Peter Drucker

Authority & Responsibility…an indivisible pair

Humans are silly.  We try to separate responsibility from authority, but it can’t be done as they’re two sides of the same coin. People shouldn’t be held responsible for things they don’t have authority over; doing so is illogical, bordering on delusional. In reality, when someone claims responsbility over something they are also assuming authority to act, and vice versa.

What does this mean in practice?  Simple:  supervisors can’t delegate responsibility without also delegating authority.  Either both are delegated, or neither is, regardless of any fancy words a supervisor may use to try to justify a logical disconnect.  To tell a subordinate they are responsible for something without also delegating authority to affect the situation is foolish and sets them up for failure…eventually the supervisor will blame them for an outcome they had no control over. Most of us have been on the receiving end of that delightful scenario and hated it; we owe it to our troops not to continue passing that dysfunction down through the generations.

Please remember this the next tme you wish to pass responsibility down the chain.  Are you also passing decision making authority?  If not, the responsibility still rests with you whether you realize it or not, so it’s important to not mistake this. Similarly it’s wise to ask whether delegating the authority is appropriate; if it’s not, then don’t make the mistake of attempting to pass responsibility because the two can’t be split up, they’re a package deal.

[disclaimer:  nothing new here; Peter Drucker has said this various ways before but it bears repeating.]


Saying a dirty word: Management!

In the Air Force the word management is often denigrated.  I once heard an officer complimented with “good job managing that schedule transition” and his response was “dude, those are fightin’ words.”  He literally took offense at having his management skills applauded, as if management is somehow beneath the dignity of a leader.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As Peter Drucker said, “good intentions are no substitute for organization, accountability, performance, and results.”  A leader can want those outcomes all they want, but without  management skills they’re not going to get there.  For a leader to be effective they must choose to do the right things (leadership skill) and follow through by doing those chosen things the right way (management skill).

Ironically, although the military disdains the m-word, it relies on it to succeed.  Consider the complex technologies the Air Force leverages every day to outmatch our adversaries.  Consider the logistics issues of deploying joint forces globally, and continuing to supply, feed, and employ them thousands of miles away.  How do these things happen without effective management?  The answer is they don’t.

In my not so humble opinion we hinder ourselves by shunning the m-word.  Strong management skills are essential for leadership success, and the next generation of officers and NCOs needs to be taught that.

I attempted to educate my fellow officer above by telling him he was a moron if he really thought being called a good manager was an insult; at least he could correctly feel ego-hurt at the end of the day.  (Look up “hurt feelings report”, being called a manager must be on the list.)  Still, I feel bad for anyone he supervised that wished to apply a little managerial rigor to their sloppy processes.  It’s very likely they didn’t get any leadership support for attempting to do the right thing.

Many of our leaders are brought up without any business administration education (for example I have science degrees, but no MBA, and my professional military education didn’t fill that gap).  So for those of us lacking formal education on effective management it’s on us to self-educate.

Later entries may touch on time-intensive resources to fully develop our personal business skills, but in the mean time here’s a great website that covers the primary topics of an MBA program (accounting, law, economics, entrepreneurship, finance, management, marketing, operations, statistics, and strategy).

Take a peek, and enjoy!

From the QuickMBA “About” page:

“QuickMBA is an online knowledge resource for business administration. Our goal is to help you to quickly find the business knowledge you need, when you need it, wherever you may be.”