The Responsible Leader: A book review by Bob Morris

Responsible LeaderThe Responsible Leader: Developing a Culture of Responsibility in an Uncertain World
Tim Richardson
KoganPage (2015)

Without individual as well as shared accountability, little (if anything) of enduring value can be accomplished.

As I began to read Tim Richardson’s book, I was again reminded of another book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, in which Bill George observes that authentic leaders are first and foremost authentic human beings. For me, this is his key point and because it seems so obvious, it may also seem simplistic. On the contrary, he has cut through all the rhetoric and urges his reader to examine her or his own core values. For most of us, that is an immensely difficult, perhaps painful experience.

It is noteworthy that, that in The Inferno, Dante reserves the last and worst ring in hell for those who, in a moral crisis, preserve their neutrality. Throughout all manner of organizations, there are women and men who are authentic leaders and should be commended. The reality is, their respective organizations need more of them. Indeed, all of us in our global community need more of them. In his subsequent book, Authentic Leadership, George challenges us to join their number, as does Richardson.

I agree with him: a definition of leadership is one “that each of us can weigh in our contexts. What it does and will include how we as leaders are more considerate, trustworthy, inspiring, interconnected, selfless, and properly courageous…For ours is the task of influence and counsel, which itself carries great responsibility, perhaps without the overt recognition that comes with being the main man or women.” Responsible leaders are defined at least as much by who they are as human beings as by the impact of what they do, what they achieve, as difference-makers.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Richardson’s coverage:

o Forming our mental models of leadership (Pages 5-6)
o Leadership through the ages (7-10)
0 Changes in sources of power: a 21st century revolution (10-20)
o Internal assuredness and attractiveness (28-33)
o Adaptability and learning orientation (34-38)
o Thinking and operating relationally (39-44
o Purpose and focus (44-48)
o The organizational dimension (63-73)
o The wider global and local connection (73-80)
o Listening to hear through the noise — cultivate serenity (84-88)
o Redefining success (93-102)
o Enhanced learning cycle (109-123)
o Creating impactful and lasting development opportunities (124-131)
o Responsibility from commitment, not compliance: it starts with out view of the world (136-144)
o Impacting culture intentionally (145-159)
o Restructuring alone will not yield results (168-171)
o Measurement alone will not change behavior (173-176)
o A new way of being — stepping forward for the greater good (182-190)

The information, insights, and counsel that Richardson provide in these and other passages help the reader to gain an almost 3D perspective on what responsible leadership is…and isn’t. There are practical issues to be addressed (how to obtain sufficient resources to achieve the given objectives) but also emotional issues (how to enlist and engage others with a compelling vision) and spiritual issues (how to serve higher purposes) that responsible leaders must address. In Chapter 4, “Living with paradox as a responsible leader,” Richard shares his thoughts about “looking for and seeing beyond while dealing with the immediate.” Throughout history, the greatest leaders demonstrate their ability to do so but it is important to keep in mind that great leaders — viewed as gardeners — have a “green thumb” for “growing” leaders among those with whom they are associated. They create and sustain what Richardson characterizes as a “culture of responsibility.”

This is precisely what Lao-tse has in mind in this passage from the Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Bill George’s aforementioned True North, written with Peter Sims, as well as James O’Toole’s The Executive’s Compass and Norman Pickavance’s The Reconnected Leader: An Executive’s Guide to Creating Responsible, Purposeful and Valuable Organizations.

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