Who is to blame?

When I began my career in development cooperation in another African country, I was introduced to some expat experts. In those days the expats were typically attached to a government office in a district to manage projects, funded by their government. They were also typically attached to a so-called counterpart to work together with. Much has changed since then but I remember how some of the experts used to complain about how difficult it was to implement and manage the projects because the funds were not enough, or they did not have a vehicle or the right equipment yet etc. They used to look forward to the day that the funds will arrive in the project account or when the car was expected to arrive, and they used to say that THEN things would get better. No sooner had the funds or the vehicle or the equipment arrived or there would be other obstacles that hindered the smooth operations in the project. Other resources were applied for hoping that THEN things would get better.
The reality is that things never remain the same and no matter what we do or try, there are always new factors and developments that influence the situation and that require a response, an adjustment and more or different resources. Which is the art of management I suppose. We consistently must be on the look- out for dynamics, new developments, changes, and factors that influence the effectiveness and efficiency of our operations, followed by informed decisions and responses to adjust to the new situation, always aiming to do things better. Failing to do so is reversing progress and ultimately bringing the operations to a halt. So, we must take our responsibility to keep operations going and improving. Instead, we often see that when things don’t go well, the blame is put on other people or circumstances. Oh yes, there seems always to be something or someone else to blame when things are not going well. Some other person, or condition is causing the situation we are in. On the road it is the other drivers, at school it is the teacher or the test, at home it is the husband or the wife or the children. And in the business? It is the workers, or the administrator, or the tax collector, or the importer, the exporter, the forwarder, the government, the policy, the regulations, the internet, etc. Really? Is it always somebody or something else or could it be that we ourselves are part of the problem? Let us look at this issue a bit closer. Could it be a cultural thing that we say that things happen to us instead of recognising that we play an active part in the situation? If that is so, we may need to change something here. I am not saying that culture is bad and needs to be abandoned, not at all. But if culture is standing in the way of us reaching our most important goals, assuming we have set our goals of course, then we may want to stop for a moment and try and see if things couldn’t be done in a more effective way.
In any case, many businesspeople blame their problems on other persons or external circumstances. They are not to blame themselves, they think. They think of themselves working so hard, shouting their instructions so loud and sweating so much. They find it difficult to accept that they may be making a mistake, that they are part of the problem themselves, that they are responsible.
Having responsibility is an intriguing concept. It literally means “having the ability to response”. Response to other people, to circumstances, to anything that comes our way. That ability to response is a skill that can be developed. Yes, the way we react is determined for a great deal by our culture and the way we have been brought up, the role models provided by our parents, teachers, bosses, leaders. But that does not mean that is the only way or necessarily the best way to response. Just because somebody else reacts in a certain way, doesn’t mean we have to repeat that behaviour, certainly not when it doesn’t seem to be effective, when it doesn’t change the situation for the better.
In other words, we are in a position to choose the way we response and if we base our responses on certain values and on principles, the chance is higher that our responses will have better results.
Responsibilities in running a business are many. The ability of the business owner or manager to response to the internal and external environment of the business will in the end turn the business into a poor, mediocre, or successful business. There are choices to be made. How to respond for instance to developments in the market, policy changes, suggestions from workers, demands from clients? This is where you have the opportunity to set the standards and lead the company where you want it to go.
Yes, of course things will get better when the loan gets through, when the bills are paid, when the goods arrive, when we recruit more workers, when the weather gets better, etc. But make no mistake, challenges will continue to come our way. We need to expect them, and we need to respond to them effectively. In these turbulent times, characterised by ever increasing challenges (inflation, corruption, climate change, population growth, scarcity of resources and capacity, just to name a few), we can never sit back.

Ton Haverkort

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