There has been a heavy price to pay for many CEOs when things have gone wrong at their company. The person at the top has the discretion to delegate specific duties within their business, but doing so does not deflect the leader’s responsibility for the outcomes of the directions given. In this article, entrepreneur and business leader Bhawna Patkar discusses the importance of effective leadership skills and a leader’s responsibility in business.
Many people are familiar with the oft-cited parallels used to compare good business leaders to ancient shepherds and less-effective bosses to the more modern sheepherder. As the ancient stories go, sheep knew and trusted their shepherd, and the feelings were reciprocal. This reference illustrates the difference between a leader that leads and inspires their employees and a boss that pushes, or herds, them.
This parallel is instructive to business leaders because it emphasizes an effective leader’s responsibility to lead by example and care for their subordinates’ welfare. Furthermore, this comparison illustrates that true leaders, like shepherds, are more effective because they have eliminated, or significantly reduced, the friction that could otherwise exist between what needs to get done for the company’s good and what the employee might rather be doing. Indeed, the workers have aligned their desire with the company’s goals.
In addition to making a statement about how executives should lead—instead of push—their employees, this parallel underscores the responsibility leaders have to shoulder the consequences of actions taken by the company and its employees in some circumstances. A shepherd could hardly point the finger of blame if trouble found the flock.
It’s not uncommon to read a news story about an organization’s leader who resigns after a significant business or social misstep, even if they were not directly involved in the incident. These stores can seem harsh or even tragic, but generally, this is the appropriate response for a dedicated leader. Leadership has its benefits, but it also has responsibilities, and the consequences of an organization’s actions, attitudes, and culture fall to the top seat.
An argument against the idea that the buck stops at the CEO’s desk could go something like, “if the CEO had no knowledge that a mechanic at the airline was falsifying inspection data, why should the CEO pay the price for that mistake?” The answer to this question is that the leader has an obligation to ensure that shameful or scandalous behavior cannot survive in the organization. Even without direct control over every aspect of the company, the CEO is ultimately responsible for what happens.
In some circumstances, a board of directors may insist that a CEO resign, and at other times there may be legal ramifications for the neglect of a CEO. However, even if there is no mandate from the board or broken laws, a conscientious leader should take responsibility for the outcomes on their watch, and sometimes this means stepping down.
As a leader, think about the organization you lead. Are you comfortable with the idea that your job may be on the line because of the actions of your employees? If not, formulate a plan to correct any deficiencies that could lead to a catastrophic failure. Maybe it’s more employee training, or perhaps it’s a closer examination of the work culture that has developed over time at your business. Sometimes it requires a bold look in the mirror to determine if you are acting more like a shepherd or a sheepherder.
About Bhawna Patkar
Bhawna Patkar is an entrepreneur and business leader with over a decade of experience launching and developing new business ventures in Silicon Valley. She is the founder, president, and CEO of Ziphawk Inc. — a technology service provider for the rideshare industry. Bhawna’s creativity, drive, and knack for problem solving allow her to solve challenges in both her professional and personal life. Her success aside, Bhawna’s mission has always remained the same: “If businesses believe that doing good can be profitable, then doing good will be sustainable.”