It should have been a commonplace part of the day. Everything should have gone according to plan (one could say about anything.) Yet, someone goofed up.
Part of my job on prep involves readying the next mornings bake in the proofer and setting it on a timer. Lately, I’ve been able to pull all the necessary pastries and keep them in the fridge. The proofer gets used until near the end of my shift, and there’s no real point in me sticking around just to load it. The afternoon team knows where I keep the trayed goods- I point them to the rack, I go home, and they load the proofer when they’re done.
Yesterday, someone forgot. There was mayhem in the morning, and my manager called to ask why the proofer wasn’t loaded.
Yes, I was told to leave early.
Yes, other people loading the proofer is common.
Yes, there were four other pairs of eyes that should have noticed something was left undone.
It’s my job though. It’s my team- and I am responsible.
The Buck Stops Here
Servant leadership means that, instead of being a “boss” and just telling people what to do, the leader says “Here’s what I need you to do- what can I do to help make that possible?” A leader doesn’t just hand out tasks- the leader controls the timeline, provides the resources, streamlines work, fosters communication, and makes the hard decisions and final calls.
The leader also takes ultimate responsibility. Not just when they’re around, not just over their own tasks, and not just when they are told to. The leader wins when the team wins, and when the team fails the leader fails.
This doesn’t mean every screw-up needs to be handled with chest beating and a refrain of mea culpa. As a leader, part of the job is keeping everyone honest and responsible for their actions and coaching when needed. Regardless, a problem with your team is always your problem. Even if it’s something that came from above, that’s a discussion for the leader and their superiors- the leader is still responsible to their team.
Responsibility Goes Three Directions
I am purposefully ignoring a certain famous Spider-Man quote regarding power and responsibility. I’m pretty sure that even in-universe, Peter Parker is sick to the teeth with how cliche it’s become.
Regarding responsibility, however, there is always a direction involved- Person A is responsible to Person B for task/condition/team/whatever C. You might note that that does not indicate that responsibility only goes “up” the ladder:
Someone in a leadership position is responsible to their superiors for making sure the mission of their team gets done correctly, on time, with a minimum of fuss and complication, and in accordance with the organization. They are responsible for essentially making sure the higher-ups will be done, that their team gets the job done right, and in a way that brings credit to the organization.
An unfortunate aphorism is that “Shit runs downhill.” Credit goes up, blame goes down… a good leader knows how to subvert this “wisdom.”
They are also responsible to their team to manage competently and to the best of their ability. They are responsible for providing the resources needed to get the job, the “big picture” of their goal as a team, and a strategy to help the team succeed. They are responsible for advocating for their team to the higher-ups- whether it’s for needed resources and support, better working conditions, or being the intermediary when discipline is called for.
The aphorism here is that “A chef is a cook that leads other cooks.” As a leader/authority, they are the face of their team to the higher-ups and vice versa.
Finally, a leader is responsible to themselves. They need to meet their expectations for themselves while keeping those expectations reasonable. They need to execute their job to the best of their ability without martyring themselves. They need to give their full effort to their team while still looking after themselves- or else they won’t be in a condition to take care of anyone. They need to answer to their superiors, but without going against their own moral compass in the name of convenience or expediency.
Summing It Up
When you become a leader or take a leadership role, authority comes with responsibility. You are answerable to everyone, and everything is- in some way- your problem.
You need to be able to enforce your superiors will, speak up for your subordinates, and look after yourself according to your own values all at the same time. Even when it’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility.
It’s a hard road to walk- we can all tell stories about “leaders” who slipped up one way or another. If it was easy, though, it wouldn’t be worth doing.