The most eye-catching moment in last week’s British Parliament inquiry into the News Corporation’s hacking scandal might have been the foam pie thrown in the face of News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch. The most telling moment however, as far as insight into Murdoch’s leadershp style is concerned, came in his response to a Member of Parliament’s question: “Do you accept that ultimately, you are responsible for this whole fiasco?” Without equivocation, Murdoch replied “No.” He, instead, pointed a finger at subordinates.
A better example of poor leadership may be hard to find.
It was drummed into my head during training for a commission as a US Army second lieutenant, and reinforced during my service on active duty, that I was responsible for everything that soldiers under my command did or failed to do. That lesson was taught to me more than 50 years ago. It still applies today.
A leader, whether a news mogul like Murdoch, an American president, a corporated chief executive officer, executive editor, school principal or squad leader can’t shed responsibility for the actions of subordinates. When things go well, as they have during Murdoch’s rise to power, he wasn’t the least bit shy about taking credit for News Corp’s achievements. So too, presidents, CEOs, editors, and school principals bask in the glory of successes within their realms.
Likewise, when things go wrong they are expected to step up, accept responsibility, fix the problem, and ensure there will be no recurrence. Murdoch can rightly suggest that he delegated authority to others to manage his 55,000 employee empire. But the one thing neither Murdoch and other leaders cannot delegate is responsibility.
To say, as Murdoch told Parliament, he doesn’t accept ultimate responsibility for his employees’ improper action is to pass the buck… back down the line. What a miserable thing to do.