Accountability is one of the many character traits we must learn and exhibit both as individuals and more importantly, as leaders. Many of us learned the importance of being accountable at an early age through good parenting. I grew up in a lower, middle-class family as the eldest of seven. Accountability was practiced more on me as the eldest than those siblings that followed me. They have profusely thanked me for being more accountable for them, moreover because they got to witness me taking the blame for wrong things I did. They learned many of those things NOT to do. I started out being a slow learner, but eventually ‘got it’- the hard way, of which I earned them all. The accountability was mostly accentuated with another key trait I learned early on-DISCIPLINE!
One of the early accountability lessons I learned was being responsible and accountable for my own things. I had been given a baseball fielder’s glove for a birthday gift at about 8-9 years of age and left it in the back yard when came a downpour. It made the glove virtually unusable. I went to my Dad and told him of what had happened. He said that he would not replace it due to my negligence and I would have to earn the money to replace it. Now, this sounds like a trivial thing, but it has been one of those things I learned early on that has ‘haunted’ me since then. Now, anytime it rains, I pause and think of whether I brought in my glove AND anything else that should not be left out in the weather.
Accountability should trace and follow the priorities we have in our lives. For me, and probably many of you, we hold God, family, country, community and our fellow man as those we should be accountable to and for!
Accountability & God
As for my accountability to God, I look to my own vision of what Judgment Day would play out and some of you may have heard me recite these before.
I see six questions that I will be asked: “Mike, I gave you many talents to resource you for your life. How did you use those talents? Did you make the best of those talents I gave you? Along with those talents, I set several obstacles before you in your life. How did you use those talents to overcome/counter those obstacles/challenges? Did you use the talents well in meeting these challenges? Finally, how did you treat others that you came in contact with? Did you treat them as you would yourself and the God within them?”
I will be held accountable for each and every one of these.
I hope you take the time to reflect on how you have been living your life thus far. Is this how you want to be remembered by those you’ve come in contact with on your journey? Or are there some areas that you can improve upon? It’s never too late to change course. I encourage you to sit quietly and listen to that still small voice deep down. Look to God for guidance and strength on your journey. You and God are the only ones that know what you’ve been through and what you are going through. Trust in God’s timing of things to come in your life, take care of the people that have been placed in your path and count your many blessings each and every day.
Accountability & Family
Family accountability is one of those things I look at differently than others would since I was the eldest sibling. I see myself as being accountable to each and every member of my family….offspring, in-laws, out-laws, the whole tree. Accountability becomes more important with age. I have had the luxury of gaining so many experiences that I feel responsible to pass on how to deal with many of the challenges my family is faced with.
Whether that’s helping out a relative who’s going through chemo treatments by having them move into our home, so we can provide the hourly and daily care needed. Or giving someone a job that needs it during this season of life to help offset burdensome bills. Talking with someone about health concerns for their spouse, children or grandchildren. Taking the time to talk and really listen to what your family is going through and seeing if you can offer any aide is so important. Most of the time you just listening to them, without trying to “fix” their problem, will alleviate much of their stress and anxiety. Keeping family close knit like ours is challenging these days, with everyone moving to the four corners of the globe for bigger and better opportunities. If you do scatter, make it a priority to reconnect in person and over the phone as much as possible. Much can be learned and gained by keeping family ties strong.
Accountability & Country
I live in the most resourced, democratic, free and talent-rich nations on this planet. I feel that as part of this great nation, I should be helping other nations that have less than what we have been given. I deal with many other nations and look at how they struggle with the lack of resources and talents. I am very impressed with how they cope and handle things every day, but I still try to help them where and however I can to improve their quality of life.
Community presents many similar challenges that I see in other countries. Again, I feel that I should help where I can to assist them in meeting their challenges of quality of life improvements. I’ve done this by talking with community leaders, listening to their concerns, helped start nonprofits, provided affordable housing for disabled veterans and employed veterans. I tell you this so you know that I’m not all talk and no action. I practice, what I preach. I hope my example will inspire others, especially in the younger generations to pick up where I left off. Playing the infinite game, is the only way that our nation stays intact.
Accountability & Leadership
Let’s look deeper into accountability. I follow the adage that being a leader is both an honor and a privilege to lead others. Within that awesome responsibility, I feel, and have felt, responsible and accountable for each and every one of those placed under my authority. Yes, for my time as a commander in the Middle East with 27,000 plus under my command, I felt responsible/accountable to each one. It wasn’t easy, and I’m sure that I failed many, but the responsibility/accountability was there daily. If you are a leader, and you don’t feel the awesomeness of what goes with that territory, then it may be time for some self-reflection of if not you, then who? The lessons learned through leading in a combat environment involve people’s lives and well-being! The decisions made every day have impacts on each one that you are responsible/accountable for, to include their families.
It can be looked at from the explicit things that we are directly accountable for as well as those that are implied. Another way to look at it would be the second, and third-order effects. I was taught and trained in my early leader years to not only take care of the obvious tasks given in our mission set, but seek out the ‘implied tasks’ that are hidden in the mission set.
Direct expectations are those that are put in writing to us by way of expectations that our job presented by our superiors. These are derived from our job descriptions and they may be in terms of measurements/metrics of an objective nature as well as those that are subjective. The objective accountability would look something like “meet sales goal of $$ per month” or “produce XX numbers of items per month”. Pretty straight forward, right? Then, there are the subjective ones like “establish your product/service in region/state YY”, which is much harder to produce and account for. Anything worth doing needs to be accounted for by someone individually or by a certain group. It goes back to our model, “The Diamond Process Model”, which follows the trace of Mission/Vision/Goals (MVGO) to Lines of Business (LOBs) to Processes to Expectations/Role/Responsibility/Accountability. Accountability should link and sync from measurements back to what part of the mission or vision it is achieving.
Then we encounter the inexplicit, or implied items that we become accountable for that come from second/third-order effects. An example of these would be ensuring that we have the right amount of resources to enter that new region/state YY. These would include manpower, equipment (to include office space, plant, dollars, supplies, technology and others) and skillsets (KSAs) to effectively break into this new region/state. The second/third order effects may include the impact on families of those involved who may be required to travel and be away from home overnight. They may have special needs children or have parents that are in poor health.
Accountability should also include owning up to things that may not have gone well for us. It means having to admit that we made an error of commission as well as omission. Many leaders are reluctant to admit they were wrong or made an error of either type because they feel that they will be perceived as a weak leader. Most subordinates really appreciate having a leader that will admit when they were wrong rather than dodge/evade/cover-up reality—or worse yet, blaming subordinates. Owning up to errors or wrong-doing falls under what I have experienced as ‘lessons learned’. It is all part of growing as individuals and leaders.
Here are the takeaways from this short account of accountability. Leading is an honor and privilege. Be accountable for each and every one that you are responsible/accountable for. Understand what you are fully accountable for, to include the direct, as well as the indirect, items. When you are wrong, or err either by commission or omission, own up to it. Your subordinates will think more of you than if you had not owned up. Learn from your mistakes and grow as a leader. Pass it forward by coaching and mentoring others in their being accountable as a leader.