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Understanding Chain of Command and Chain of Responsibility

Updated: Jan 14

Guru Wonder - 4S management series

To have power means possessing the ability to influence the direction and outcomes of events. This is why everyone is attracted to power and they try to garner as much as they can.

Power is so intoxicating that since ancient times, Indians have described it as even more addictive than opium. Power is a double-edged sword, it can be used for good but can hurt the one who wields it. That is why awakening must precede power.

Nothing is more dangerous than an arrogant, ignorant or intolerant individual armed with power.

Power enables people to do things be they good, bad, evil or stupid. Therefore great consideration must be given before entrusting anyone with power.

Authority without responsibility is a dictatorship and responsibility without authority is impotence.

Power as is usually practised is top-down. The boss, the king, the prince or just a manager usually dictates to subordinates and they in turn to their juniors. This flow of power is called the 'chain of command'.

Depending on the nature of the enterprise the average span of control (the number of direct reportees) varies from 3 to 8 individuals.

The people at the junior levels within a hierarchy implement orders and strictly follow guidelines issued to them.

The individual at the top needs to provide strategy, approve tactics and plans to subordinates and ensure that people who do the actual work receive requisite resources, training, time, etc. This is the 'chain of responsibility'.

All too often people are so fascinated by the chain of command that they tend to overlook the chain of responsibility. Failure to support juniors to do their job as required and agreed upon will ensure that juniors will most likely fail. Who is responsible? Should it be the soldier or should it be the leader?

It is the leader. Yet, because power rests in the hands of the senior, the leader remains blameless whilst the junior becomes the scapegoat.

Assigning or deflecting blame might save the General but not the army and the battle.

As long as seniors can assign blame to juniors without themselves accepting responsibility, victories can come only by battling more incompetent or badly led people.

Motivation and discipline along with clarity on the 4S management system (Strategy, Systems, Structure and Style) usually ensures that bad individuals remain few but little can be done to ensure the performance of a bad leader. Unless there is a chain of responsibility.


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