Everyone wants to be a leader. However, few are prepared to accept the accountability that goes with it. But you can't have one without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.
But what does accountability look like?
First and foremost, it means that you accept responsibility for the outcomes expected of you—both good and bad. You don't blame others. And you don't blame the external environment. There are always things you could have done—or still can do—to change the outcome.
Until you take responsibility, you are a victim. And being a victim is the exact opposite of being a leader.
Victims are passive. They are acted upon. Leaders are active. They take initiative to influence the outcome.
When I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson, we held a meeting once a month with our divisional leaders. We required each of them to write a report, detailing what happened the previous month.
They submitted their reports to my Executive Leadership Team. Then we meet with each leader face-to-face to discuss his or her operating results.
These reports provided a summary of what happened and a review of the key metrics that drove the business. We also asked each division head to describe how their leadership succeeded or failed.
We asked, “What was it about your leadership that produced these results?” The underlying assumption was that it is all about their leadership. We did not allow them to blame anyone internally or externally.
I remember one month when Allen Arnold did a particularly good job of this in his report. I have asked his permission to include it here, because I believe it serves as a great model for others.
By way of background, Allen leads the Thomas Nelson Fiction division. He started this division several years ago and has done a great job leading it to it's current level of success.
But even great leaders, like Allen, have bad months. But when they do, they take full responsibility for it. (I have bracketed out sensitive, proprietary information.)
Notice several items in Allen's comments:
- They all make heavy use of the pronoun “I.” Allen didn't hide behind his team (e.g., “we didn't do such and such”) or blame others (e.g., “they didn't do such and such.”).
- He is specific about the decisions he made and the results he achieved. He understands that the two are linked. Smart leaders get this. It is fundamental to driving change.
- He didn't wallow in remorse or self-pity. He simply accepts responsibility for his mistakes, learns what he can, and pledges to do better.
- He took actions to correct the problem. This is the great thing about responsibility. Once you own it, you can begin fixing it. This eliminates a lot of wasted effort in playing the victim and blaming others.
It is also important for leaders to take responsibility for the good results they produce. When a leader exceeds his target, there is much he can learn, too. And in this meetings, we also took the time to reinforce these actions, so they would continue.
The bottom line is that no organization can grow and prosper until the leaders are willing to step up and take responsibility. As that begins to happen, it opens up a whole world of possibility.
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