No matter what kind of organization you work in, ultimate accountability rests with leadership. Business leaders are accountable to stockholders. Educators are accountable to oversight boards. Government officials are accountable to voters. Military officials are accountable to political leaders.
Real accountability should reside in the heart and mind of each individual leader. Whether you’re taking pride in a recent success in your business unit or owning your part in a screwup that cost the company, the good and the bad rest in your lap.
Don’t deflect the blame
Leaders who have given poor direction or made bad decisions have an obligation to proactively acknowledge their error. If you screw up — and everyone does —those around you already know it, so pretending it didn’t happen is just self-deluding. Instead, be a leader: Stand up and clearly acknowledge to all involved that you accept responsibility.
Leaders who try to ignore or transfer blame are simply losing the respect of the team. Leaders who quickly, fully and sincerely accept responsibility earn the admiration of all around them. Plus, this acknowledgement sets the stage to start fixing whatever can be corrected. It is amazing how people will jump on the “let’s get it right” bandwagon when the leader follows this path.
Buck still stops at the top
When bad things happen way down the ladder in an organization the ultimate accountability still rests with senior leaders. For example, when there’s a culture breakdown that yields serous dishonesty and malfeasance the buck still stops at the top. Castigating minor players for major issues shows a lack of serious accountability.
Here’s one piece of advice that has really stuck with me: Communicate the most when you are in trouble. You may want nothing more than to stick your head in the sand, hoping all will go away, but the bad stuff never does. Facing it boldly is the only way forward.
When to move on
We’ve established that as a leader you are always accountable. But how you accept responsibility and deal with the recovery steps will be critical to your future success or failure.
Sometimes that may even mean moving on. When a leader has grossly failed, it may signal a time for change. Leaders must look in the mirror and reflect deeply on the situation. There might be an opportunity to transfer or step back. If the situation is serious enough the best decision could be resignation. And if that is the case, always take the first step — don’t wait to be told you are going.
Great leaders walk the high road with total honesty about all situations and then take full responsibility for everything on their watch.
published in the Nashville Business Journal