COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY

“Leaders are candid and courageous;

 they know their strengths and use them;

they bolster their weaknesses by relying on others with

complementary skills and by constantly

 learning and adapting; they know when they need help

and seek it; they know when help is required by others,

and they provide it.”

–       Carly Fiorina, Tough Choices: A Memoir

That being CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP) was a title that came with a lot of responsibilities and tough choices was obvious as I read through the memoir of Carly Fiorina, the maverick who bucked the challenges and loneliness in the corporate world dominated by men. She had to prove herself on two levels (and she did) as, first, a stranger coming in from the cold into a “community” that prided itself on a long-standing tradition and, second, as a capable woman CEO, an epithet that grated on her nerves later on. “I think this is going to be a high-wire act without a net,” she wrote in her memoir as she plunged head-on in turning HP around and becoming the leader people had hoped her to be.

Her memoir is interesting and inspiring, highlighting the struggles and triumphs she experienced as CEO, and indirectly motivating the reader to uphold a high standard of self-esteem, intelligence and command responsibility at work. What struck a chord of resonance within me was her definition of leadership, which, given the proliferation of news about leaders being only leaders in name, is quite a timely principle for leaders and would-be leader to take note of.

In the Philippines, some several weeks after the unfortunate kidnapping and subsequent killing of eight of the hostages, the leadership of the new administration is under fire alongside the leaders of Manila and the police force. Command responsibility seems to be an alien concept to all of them, which shouldn’t be because they are, after all, leaders. One is a leader of the entire archipelago; one is a leader in a district of the Philippines; and the rest are leaders of the police force that, sadly, have become the object of derision for what is generally perceived as their utter incompetence.

President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III was quoted on TV and in the newspapers as saying, “I should have taken a more active role” in the resolution of the hostage-taking at the Quirino Grandstand. I find it surprising to hear this statement coming from the head of the country because, with his title, there shouldn’t have been any room for doubt in his mind as to his role in such a situation. Granted, that he has his well-appointed people in position, this still doesn’t absolve him of his duty to take charge or take command responsibility.  Granted, that he has the entire country to look after, but the incident at the Quirino Grandstand was more pressing than anything at that moment. One would think he’d be cognizant of the fact that a title of such gravity carries with it an enormous sense of command responsibility. Leaders certainly have to rely on people but their sense of judgment must be impeccable. They have to absolutely sure that the people they’re relying on are absolutely capable and if they’re unable to handle the responsibility the leader must be able to takeover and take charge.

Meanwhile, the comment of former show business personality-turned-vice-mayor of Manila Isko Moreno left me flabbergasted. He said, as printed in the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer, “What I know was when the mayor [Alfredo Lim] left, I left also…When I stepped out [of the command center in Rizal Park] I saw the [Special Action Force] and others in[assault] uniform…I wished them luck and told them to be careful.”

“Then I went to the Manila Pavilion [hotel] and I looked for a television set. I asked for coffee from the bartender and told him to switch the channel to ANC. That’s when I saw that there were gunshots already.” 

If the President’s less-than inspiring comment left me shaking my head in disappointment, the vice-mayor’s words before the Incident Investigation and Review Committee  left my mouth gaping in complete incredulity. He completely turned the concept of command responsibility on its head! In the midst of the hostage-taking, he simply wished the officers luck and to take care, and headed to the hotel for a cup of coffee. But let’s not forget the token action of command responsibility – he did ask that the channel be turned on to ANC [a local news channel].  That he wished them well-wishes doesn’t count as taking full command responsibility or does monitoring the situation from a public space. In fact, the gaps, or silences, in his comments say it all about the vice-mayor’s notion of command responsibility: the absence of it and the importance of coffee. A question tugs at my mind endlessly: Why did the vice-mayor leave?

Leaders overlook the responsibilities that go with the title when they decide to be the voice of the populace. They miss the fact that the margin for error is non-existent and decisions to be made are for the good of the many and not for people’s individual territories or comfort zones.  And, most importantly, they have turned a blind eye to command responsibility, which should be second nature to them.

Perhaps the leaders of today define need to be reminded of what leadership is.  Perhaps they’re contrite for their lapses in command responsibility; perhaps they’re not. Perhaps it’s time to go back to basics. Let’s begin with the principle that leaders have to exercise command responsibility the moment they take up the mantle of leadership.

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