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Accountability. What a Concept.

Yet who can really define it? Let’s take a look at leadership accountability.

Google the word and you get some interesting thoughts. Here are a few.

Accountability eliminates the time and effort you spend on distracting activities and other unproductive behavior. When you make people accountable for their actions, you’re effectively teaching them to value their work. When done right, accountability can increase your team members’ skills and confidence.

Accountability means living in integrity, with all your thoughts, words, and actions are consistent with one another and in alignment. Commitment is one thing, but accountability is vital to sustaining long-term success

In other words, the term doesn’t mean punishment; instead, it describes a willingness to accept responsibility for our own actions and their impact.

Henry Evans, the author of Winning with Accountability, defines it as “Clear commitments that — in the eyes of others — have been kept.” Here, the phrase “in the eyes of others” is key. In our organizations, accountability is not just about making and keeping commitments — it is also about transparency. When we make our commitments visible to our teammates, everyone is empowered to ask follow-up questions, check on progress, and help move work forward.

The Rub

Marine LTC Stuart Scheller has made news by denouncing his chain of command in Afghanistan for allowing the bombing at the Kabul Airport that resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. Service members. He has gone so far as to resign his commission and forego his full retirement after 20+ years in the Corps.

Scheller’s basic call to action is to return to accountability in leadership. From his view, commanders were demanding accountability from subordinate troops yet abdicating their own accountability…

..all the way to Washington, D.C. His contention is that leaders (anywhere) must themselves be accountable.

I happen to agree with Scheller. My sense is that our political leaders (all of them, both parties) have abandoned basic principles of accountability. They have built systems and agencies to shield their collective actions to cover up any true visibility of the ramifications of their choices and actions.

What is any American able to do to connect all of the dots? When an executive order is issued, how can any of us really know the impact it has, whether positive or negative?

If you happen to have voted for the party in office all you can do is hope they are doing the things you thought they promised you. But are they? Where’s the accountability?

In recent years I’ve heard frequent mention of how overwhelming various Bills that have come out of Congress may be. Speaker Pelosi herself was once asked, “Do you know everything in this Bill?” Her reply was “No, let’s see what happens.” Really? That my friends, is not much accountability.

Power Corrupts

There is an old saying “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I’ve experienced that myself on a very small scale. When I was a young Lieutenant in the Army, I was put in temporary command of a troop unit with some 450 soldiers who were assigned for training. Under the terms of the UCMJ (the Uniformed Code of Military Justice), I had simultaneous powers as prosecutor, judge, and jury.

If a soldier committed an infraction, they were brought to my ‘court.’ It became intoxicating for me. I could levy penalties, garnish wages, demote rank and impact a wide range of punitive actions. Unchecked I could seriously influence those under my command.

But for me, personally, I had a commitment to God. I was a Christian with real beliefs in a much higher power than my own. I was accountable to Him for what I might do to others here.

That accountability was called into action one day when I was feeling particularly smug about my command and the powers of the UCMJ. I won’t go into all the details, but the significance of the moment was that I checked in on my accountability. I was reminded of the vows and promises I had made to God about being the person He wanted me to be.

Invoking all the strength and might of a code written by other men (the UCNJ) was not the standard I was being called to honor. I changed my mindset about power. I was humbled to realize the code was important but had to be administered with honor and human decency. Yes, discipline could be applied, but the soldier who was subject to that discipline needed to be redeemed.

The Elected Career “Leader”

Anyone who has engaged in elected office as a career cannot possibly have the same sense of balance. How can I say that? I say it because I have known several Congressmen and Senators in my day. The ones who live by higher standards don’t make Washington a career. They go, serve, and try to impact the system. But in the end, they retreat.

They don’t run for re-election after a few terms. The system beats them down. They run headlong into the reality that to survive there, you must compromise everything. You cannot live by the higher standards. You cannot permit total transparency.

Why? Because deals must get made for the ‘system’ to work. Those deals are not always good for the constituents you say you represent. There is no leadership accountability. Those deals may not represent the real values you intend to live by.

This gets us back to leadership accountability.

Will your actions stand the test of the words you speak? Real leaders, elected or not, are accountable. In fact, they demand it. First of themselves and then from others.

Lead by example is an easy phrase to utter. But living by it day by day is a much bigger challenge. We need leaders who are accountable.

LTC Scheller, I am with you Sir. Soldier on!

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