Under what conditions (if any) is it correct to blame or praise leaders for what their followers do? (Be sure to illustrate your answer with examples.
The definition of leader, according Winston and Patterson ( 2006) is someone who “selects, equips, trains, and influences one or more follower(s) who have diverse gifts, abilities, and skills and focuses the follower(s) to the organization’s mission and objectives causing the follower(s) to willingly and enthusiastically expend spiritual, emotional, and physical energy in a concerted coordinated effort to achieve the organizational mission and objectives”. Therefore, one would agree that the behaviour and actions of a leader has serious impact on the actions of their followers. A leader is responsible for the moral culture in an organisation by demonstrating discernment between appropriate and unacceptable rules of proper behaviour (Thomas, 2008) and sets the foundation for organisational culture. Reeves-Ellington (1998) further highlights the importance of the ethical actions of a leader, emphasising that if effective ethical leadership is not exhibited by leaders themselves, employees in the lower levels of the organisation will not comprehend the importance of ethics in business thus undermining moral culture. This sort of ethical leadership mentioned by Reeves-Ellington (1998) brings a more modern approach to moral responsibility in organisations as compared to Aristotle’s views on moral responsibility. Aristotle provides a different outlook on blameworthiness and praiseworthiness using the terms voluntary and involuntary actions to justify his views (Nichomachean Ethics, Book 3). The terms voluntary and involuntary actions and how it approached blameworthiness and praiseworthiness will be discussed below. There is two sides to a coin and the below discussion would dwell into the two contrasting views of ethical leadership and responsibility.
A Modern Society Approach to Blameworthiness and Praiseworthiness
The setting of an organisational culture is essential in imparting core beliefs and ethical practices into a company. As mentioned in Thomas ( 2008), a leader is liable for the moral culture in an organisation and the actions of the followers is a direct representation (Gibori, 2017) of the beliefs and morals a leader has instil upon. Hence, leaders should be subjected to the blame for the actions of their subordinates as this is necessary to send a strong message (Barthélemy, 2014) to the public and also to employees within the organisation. Taking the blame might not necessarily be a terrible thing, as this gives leader the ability to take control of the problem ( Vidotto, n,d) and it also enables the leader to express the importance of bonds that have been forged (Abudato, n,d). The actions of Scott Waddle, former navy commander is a great example of taking responsibility. He took full responsibility for his ship’s collision with a Japanese vessel which resulted in death of 9 civilians. Though his men were the ones at fault, he took all the blame because he was their captain 9 Horsager, 2014). Under such situations, the leader is blameworthy as Manwaring (1997) implies that by taking full responsibility of the fault, a leader would be regarded as a scapegoat but further suggest that an utilitarian leader would readily take up full responsibility for the achievement or downfall of the group under his/her control.
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Leaders, have the most influence in a team or organization, as a result, there is a higher level expectation and accountability. They undertake the responsibility and right to lead the community, decision making and acts on behalf of the group ( Chaffee, 1997). This emphasises the idea of taking the blame because a leader should be prepared to be held accountable, and being in a leadership position suggest that a leader has accepted the obligations to be held accountable and should be prepared to assume all criticism ( Bavly, 1999). If top management is not aware of the ins and outs of a business, they are not being responsible to the business and also to their employees. Thus if a mistake were to occur, the leader is equally, if not more responsible for the fault. The notion that a leader has to exercise accountability and responsibility might involve a hidden motive, which is to salvage the reputation of the business and themselves. As suggested by Kouzes and Posner (1993), leaders publicly recognize their mistakes and avert from temptation to dismiss their involvement and publicly apologize to all who were at the receiving end of the mistake. Kouzes and Posner (1993) also added that any act of trying to mask or disclaim any fault would result in further damage to the leader’s reputation as compared to acknowledging the mistake from the beginning. In such situations, it is advisable for leaders to assume the blame and pass the credit to their followers. Praiseworthiness can be said differently from a leaders perspective. As stated by Folkman (2017), when a leader passes credit to his/her followers, they would look good too and in the process creates a better impression and would be seem as a more competent leader. Though a leader is ought to be praised for the good done by his followers, passing the credit to fellow peers creates a positive image for the leader and that he/she acknowledges the effort and accomplishments of their followers. Fredberg (2011) also points out that aspiring CEOs take responsibility for mistakes and credit/praise when there is success. When such leadership is in place and used appropriately, it is crucial for bringing about economic and social value. Thus based on this modern approach, leaders should take the blame and pass credit to followers as this would have an overall benefit for the team and organisation.
Aristotle’s approach to Blameworthiness and Praiseworthiness
Aristotle’s view on blameworthiness and praiseworthiness provides an alternative perspective to whether a leader is to be blamed or praised for the actions of their followers. Aristotle’s view is mainly explained by voluntary and involuntary actions. Voluntary actions are actions when they are “neither forced nor caused by ignorance- that is when the principle of the action is in the agent and she acts with knowledge of the particulars of her action” (Nichomachean Ethics, Book 3, 1111a22-24) This explains that a leader can be subjected to blame only if he/she is fully aware of the situation and the actions leading up to the consequences. The case for involuntary action is either acting under coercion or disregarding the fact that the agent does not comprehend the situation he/she is embroiled in and is upset and remorseful subsequently. (Nichomachean Ethics, Book 3, 1110b11-12). It is arguable that leaders do not have to be at fault for the action of their followers. Strictly speaking, leaders are only liable for blame if their actions are voluntary, which means if they knowingly act despite knowing the consequences. Aristotle’s voluntary views conflicts the views of modern society in relation to leaders taking the blame for their followers. Modern society challenged Aristotle’s views in such, people or leaders are often expected to be answerable to actions that were unintended ( Williams, n.d). Johnson and Johnson’s Credo is a perfect example of being responsible for ones actions disregarding leadership positions. The company initiated a “standards of leadership” program to ensure that leaders across all levels are culpable to the credo values instilled by the company ( Brown, Hartman and Treviño, 2000). Johnson and Johnson prioritised its Credo values and those who violated these values were subjected to punishment and disciplinary action as seen in the case where certain employees had engaged in improper activities that violated their policies (Brown, Hartman and Treviño, 2000). Johnson and Johnson no nonsense attitude towards unethical behaviour can be seen as ruthless but in the view of Aristotle, the accused were responsible because their actions were voluntary, thus they are blameworthy and faced further consequences. The implementation of Aristotle’s approach to ethical and moral leadership is rarely seen in today’s society as many organisations would have opted for the more sought after approach of having leaders taking blame and passing credit to their followers.
According to the Centre for Creative Leadership (n.d), how leaders are credited and blamed and the steps taken by leaders to deal with these situations have a tremendous influence on the standard of work produced and the overall success of the organisation. Thus organisations these days are moving towards such form of ethical leadership, where leaders are encouraged to pass the credit to employees and would cover for their followers, should any fault arises. Thus this foster a more united organisation, with less finger pointing because a leader who shifts the blame increases uncertainty among their followers ( Fredberg, 2011) This does not mean that one person does not take ownership of their mistakes but I would say that the application of Aristotle’s views would be better used depending on the severity of the situation and would not suggest that leaders to build an organisational culture based on Aristotle’s views as it might not be the most effective approach to get the best out of his/her followers. Thus the decision of which approach to implement would depend on the type of culture leaders have built and depending on the severity of the situation on hand as there is so much a leader can cover for their followers.
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