There’s much confusion about accountability. Lack thereof is a top issue on the list of challenges and frustrations of the execs who reach out to me. However, virtually no subordinate leader sees themselves as not being accountable.
Lack of accountability is presumed when the person who is supposed to know, doesn’t. When the person who was supposed to do, didn’t. When the result that was to be achieved, wasn’t. The person who doesn’t know, didn’t do, or failed to achieve the result becomes the bum of the day. An occasional miss here can be overcome. We all have them. Persistent misses, blaming others, failing to belly-up-to-the bar and own it, puts a leader on the super-slide to a negative reputation and that is a tough one from which to recover.
Endemic chaos is a common cause that underlies perceptions that a leader is weak on accountability/ownership. There are multiple new emergencies daily. Things are out of control, always. It’s like living in the carnival Fun House room of mirrors. Teams and their members have gotten so used to persistent pandemonium that there are inherent broken situations and broken team behavior has become the norm.
Discussions result in fingers pointing upstream and downstream and what’s missing is a look in the mirror. This can be a tough look as it will likely reflect that leadership is the solution. There is a fundamental characteristic of high performing leaders at play here, in three acts. First, the willingness to look in the mirror; second, the self-awareness to see and accurately assess what is reflected; third, acceptance of a basic principle of high performance leadership: “I am a leader and if there is endemic chaos or something else that isn’t right, I either cause it, participate in it, or allow it.”
This look in the mirror is often obscured by the inability to see what’s really there. In fact, at some point it is too late to make a positive difference and here’s why…
If this leader in question has no idea of the Lacks Accountability tag around their neck, the likelihood of emerging from that hole is declining. Negative perceptions have an unfortunate exponent, in that the person holding the negative perception is persistently on the lookout for additional validation of the negative. This hyper-awareness for validation of the negative carries two big problems: A) It results in inaccurate assumptions wherein a situation is seen as just another validation that Marie lacks accountability, when in reality a deeper examination of the facts would show that it doesn’t. The deeper exam does not happen. B) We tend to find what we are looking for and in this case, persistently looking for the negative obscures any positive action or accomplishments by the bum leader. Without awareness and action, the individual becomes unworthy of positive encouragement, useable feedback and the opportunity to learn and grow.
Another leader bites the dust.
There is important work for leaders on both sides of this issue. Consider adopting these three principles:
- Leaders have a primary accountability to develop more leaders.
- People are doing the best they can. They will do better when they know how and the leader has an accountability to help them discover how.
- Success in leadership requires self-awareness. Useful feedback improves self-awareness, but only when it can be heard without defensiveness.
Regardless of the side of this accountability challenge you are on, feedback is an essential ingredient for improvement. Seek it persistently from multiple sources, including those with whom you are uncomfortable. Look for patterns and consistencies in the suggestions that emerge. Accept the fact that what may be most difficult to hear may also have the greatest value.