Bureaucrat's Handbook
Developing Antidotes for Bureaucracy


Integrity Zone
Aligning  Responsibility, Authority, and Information

Hans is a sincere person who works hard to maintain his integrity, do the right thing, and  contribute constructively at work, at home, and to the greater community. Unfortunately, now he is under constant stress caused by conflict at work. It seems his boss is not acting in the best interests of the organization. Here are Hans's thoughts as he analyzes the situation:

Hans took a closer look at responsibility, authority and knowledge and how they interacted with each other. He understood responsibility, which was his ability to respond to meet his obligations and duties to do his job and satisfy his customers. When he ran the organization himself he lived by the consequences of his actions. If his products sold well, he was satisfied emotionally and financially. If the products failed, he suffered. He understood knowledge; it was his job mastery and understanding of customer needs. He had a complete understanding of his work and continued to learn all the facts, ideas, and principles he could about it. Hans considered the word “authority”. He used to think of an authority as a person with expert knowledge and experience in some topic area. Such people were naturally looked up to and their advice was sought out and followed. Several people had referred to Hans as an authority in his area of work. He now understood a new meaning of the word. Authority is the ability or power to enforce rules or give orders. This form of authority, when power is granted without expertise, is an empty authority. In the past he had genuine authority as a result of his expertise and ownership of the business, but now he was powerless.

He drew a simple diagram to better understand what was happening

The problem seems to begin when authority is separated from responsibility. This allows people with authority to avoid the responsibly for their actions. They become carefree and careless. Also, people become powerless when they are stripped of authority. Accountability requires risk taking to be aligned with decision making, and here they are being separated.

Authority is power
Responsibility is obligation.
Authority without responsibility is careless and irresponsible

The problems get worse when you consider the knowledge needed for making effective decisions. Hans drew this more complete picture.

Hans had been stripped of authority, so he was now powerless. The people who had authority lacked knowledge, so they were ignorant. They also seemed to escape responsibility, making them carefree, careless, and irresponsible.

When authority, knowledge, and responsibility had been aligned within him, the business had run smoothly. When they were separated, nothing seemed to go right. In addition, this misalignment seemed to lead to a lack of integrity throughout the executive team.

Hans began to call this alignment the integrity zone. The alignment of authority, knowledge and responsibility made it easy to know what to do and to do the right thing. Staying true to your values when someone else is in authority may only make you a martyr or a victim, exposing yourself to torment, distress and suffering with little if any gain.


The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work, by Peter Block  

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