The day I crossed the Rubicon to adulthood
It was a hot, in October. The rainy season was approaching but had not yet arrived. A fan was going full tilt in my office. Behind me, my windows were shut. Below my window, our lorries belched diesel fumes as they queued to exit the factory gate and take flour and maize meal for hundreds of miles around.
My phone rang and in the brisk and formal business culture of Zimbabwe, I answered it promptly: “Jo Jordan. Good afternoon.”
My caller came from outside the company. We had been at university together. And she had a lot to say about the local psychological association. I agreed. And said so.
Then I drew myself to a halt. I was the Secretary of the Association and had been for 3 months. If there was anything that needed to be done, it was my job to get it done.
And hence, I crossed an important Rubicon. I was no longer teenager/student/young adult . I was a citizen fully responsible for the way we ran our affairs.
When did you make the transition from adolescent to adulthood?
Some people never make that transition. Forever, everything is someone else’s responsibility.
Today, something in my feed caught my eye and jolted my memory of when I grew up on a stifling hot and dusty day when we were waiting for the rain and for the new agricultural season to begin. The story was about the general loss of respect for employers in the wake of the banking crisis.
Employment is not a private activity
A feature of employment law is that the manager, representing the owner, knows best. It is an absurd assumption but some people insist upon it. When we do, we take on a mantle of responsibility, not just to the owners, but to people on whom we imposed our judgement. And to deliver, we have to manage events not just inside the company but outside too.
We cannot manage the rains, perhaps. But we are responsible for responding adequately to the weather, whatever it brings.
Our outrage at the bank failures and MP expenses
The reason why the bank failures and the MP scandals have shocked us so is not the professional errors themselves. Few people understand exactly what happened in the banks or the mysterious absence of accountants and auditors in the Houses of Parliament.
But we do understand that both groups claimed status that put their judgement above ours. And they weren’t able to deliver on their promises they made when they arrogated status about ours.
We are hearing arguments from bankers and MPs that the privileges of office must be sufficiently high to warrant the responsibility they carry. So they do understand what they promised! But their arguments are back to front, of course. First, they need to show they can carry out even the basic responsibilities of public office before we worry about awarding privileges!
All public office, being a prefect at school, being secretary of the sport club, and for that matter, being a director of a private company carries the same basic responsibilities.
Implicitly, we promise to
- Speak up when something is blatantly wrong
- Live up to the procedures of contract and documentation that our culture has worked out over the centuries
- Understand where the world is going and make adequate provision for the range of events that might occur
- Show uncompromising loyalty to the people we represent and presume to order about
- Represent the whole team without whining and making excuses
There is a big difference between nitpicking and exercising our office responsibly
You may feel my argument is completely wrong
It may be that you see no connection between the behaviours I listed and things going right or wrong. If you don’t, I’d be happy to see a rebuttal but experience tells me that you will not advance a logical argument. You may argue that no one will notice any way. You will probably just dismiss me with contempt.
You may dislike nitpicking implied by rules
You may also have an inherent distrust of nitpicking. Exercising judgement and compassion, I would argue, is different. People who exercise judgement and compassion don’t hide behind rules. They judge the situation and manage it so that we achieve the outcome we want and help the person we assisted grow into a leader themselves – responsible, thoughtful, effective, loyal and with good moral & practical judgment.
You may feel you have no responsibility to anyone but yourself
It is also possible you see your job about looking after you and your own rather than every one around you and beyond. You are likely to have made up your mind on this point quite early in roles that you held at school, college and university. Early on, you will have decided how you would execute collective responsibilities. Is the group there for you, or you for it? Did you speak up when things were plain wrong. Or did you allow rubbish to accumulate thinking you would be out of the picture before the results became evident.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
You will know your own opinion, of that I am sure, and you might tell me here.
But it is likely that I have divided opinion. One group will dismiss me with contempt and pity.
They other would like to know more about acting responsibly and would like to work in environments where responsibility is more highly valued.
Is it too much to agree with Edmund Burke that we all allowed the system to drift into such disarray?
Where are doing exactly the same thing – keeping our heads-down because we believe so little in the people around us that we don’t believe they will listen or care? Where are we speaking up contentiously and carping and whining rather than engaging on matters that we are responsible for?
Should we begin by ticking off parts of the system that work well and doing more of them?