Personal accountability is a wide and somewhat confusing concept. When it comes to leadership, the best leaders not only embrace personal accountability, but they demand it.
Sadly, the headlines today contain stories about cover-ups and sexual improprieties (that’s me being very nice about it). Celebrities, athletes, politicians, key executives, and others are being “found out”. Those who are reported allegedly engaged in bad acts that included theft, fraud, sexual abuses, and collusion, just to name a few.
The #MeToo movement is not limited to the entertainment world. It reaches the boardrooms and back rooms of many of our best respected corporate brands. [Writer’s note: in case you are wondering, the #MeToo movement hit Twitter after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke. People who had been sexually assaulted were encouraged to tweet simply #MeToo.].
It seems that the old saying is still true:
Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
People in power take license with the authority that comes with their position. When the power is abused as in lording it over those with whom you work, whether for sexual favor or financial twisting, it is still wrong. So what is the remedy, the fix?
Large corporations and many smaller businesses have built-in accountabilities for things like accounting, finance, compliance, and other regulatory mandates. Yet the integrity of the leadership is left somewhat unchecked. Yes, there are Boards who write morality clauses into employment contracts. People are fired for violation of those clauses. Great for the Board who demanded that control. Unfortunately, the presence of these controls is seen in only a few cases.
When there is a contractual clause, there is accountability of a statutory nature. The person subject to such control may or may not be very influenced by its presence. If the leader’s tendency is to conduct bad acts, they will figure out ways to do it in secret. The secret only lasts so long.
Accountability must begin in the heart. A moral compass must be engaged that prevents any such bad act. The best leader has long ago figured out what, when and how to establish their own personal system of accountability.
Over the years I’ve had the good fortune of knowing a group of business leaders who started very young making pledges to one another for accountability. They met regularly and shared the temptations they faced. If one member was slipping, the group lifted them up (figuratively). They routinely reaffirmed the pledge for proper conduct. The discipline grew. As they rose in prominence in their respective professions, the habits for accountability became the foundation of integrity. To this day these leaders enjoy reputations for good character and high standards of integrity.
I argue this came from a discipline adopted at that early stage of their career. They made decisions long ago about the right ways to act.
Fighting the Beast
The coin here definitely has two sides; at least if you try to be objective. As I began preparing this article, I spoke with several close confidants. Even within this small sampling, the extremes on the scale revealed thoughts I had never considered.
One executive, a male, expressed total frustration with the dynamic. While he couldn’t deny the presence of a small percentage of male managers with horrible reputations for sexual harassment, he was equally appalled by the presence of females who cry foul without a real threat.
My friend contends, at a minimum, the line gets blurry. What action at work, physical or verbal, can be construed to be harmful? What about the office dating that has led to marriages that work. Yes, many do not, but plenty do. In the story above, my friend, a life-long HR professional said that he’s even heard complaints about “Susie, you look nice today.” Where is the line?
Managers have been sunk by false allegations of impropriety, careers ruined, yet there was no recourse. The consensus was, trust the female’s complaint. My friend’s summary statement was “there are some crazy people out there.”
On the other extreme, a female entrepreneur I know just happened to be writing her own story about the #MeToo movement. In her version she states yes, she’s been the ‘victim’ of actions that could be taken as sexually explicit, but she admits never being forced into being violated. While she’s had her own experience with men making statements and doing things like reaching and groping, she calls it a blessing to have never had to experience what many other women are now revealing.
While acknowledging this smaller segment of bad actors, she chooses to stake a claim on the men who have been mentors, champions, coaches, and supporters of her career. She says the ‘good guy’ population is much larger (thankfully). She even goes so far as to say we should add a #WeToo alternative to the #MeToo campaign. i.e. for every woman who has felt threatened, there are probably two or more who have been encouraged and helped by male influence.
In the end
It all comes back to moral character or decay. Which direction are you heading? If you are a leader (male or female) have you established your own moral high ground from which you choose to operate? In small entrepreneurial shops, you may get away with being a hugging kind of person, but larger corporate settings may not allow such behavior. Regardless, the boundaries have to be set.
Boundary setting is not just for your employees to protect themselves from you, but boundaries you choose never to cross. As an example, I know one male leader who will not permit private, one-on-one meetings with female staffers. It doesn’t matter how long the employee has been there, if a woman wants to meet with him, there will be another party in the room. That may be extreme, but I can tell you it has earned him a high degree of respect. People don’t even try to share an off-color story with him. He wants a straight narrow line shining brightly in his organization. His people respect that and want to work there.
Do they have fun? Yes, they do. It’s the kind of fun everyone can enjoy. The business thrives.
Question: What have you done to establish accountability and raise your own standards for office behavior? You can leave a comment by clicking here.