Developing an Ethic of Accountability
Great leaders are different in subtle ways. They present themselves differently, ask questions others don’t ask, and balance short and long-term goals masterfully. Perhaps most distinctive about them is the view they have about responsibility. Over the course of their lives, they have created an ethic of accountability for themselves.
For leaders with this ethic, whatever happens always starts with them. They immediately take responsibility, not the blame, for whatever outcome, reaction, or result that occurs. They accept and own any outcome, asking what they did to contribute to it, or what they could still do to change it. This powerful ethic of accountability changes everything about who they are and how they lead.
Leaders who hold themselves completely accountable and take ownership of everything in their world naturally behave differently. They are rarely accusatory or seek to blame others. Instead, they look for solutions and remedies to issues and problems that usually start with them.
Take, for instance, the common dilemma of team meetings where members don’t speak up or offer their candid views. A leader with a strong accountability ethic immediately points to themselves and presumes they have some role in the reticence the team displays.
They ask themselves what they can do to promote more openness and honest contributions by team members. Perhaps, they should take a seat that is not at the head of the table, or run the meeting by only asking questions, or refrain from offering their views too early in any discussion. They search for answers that begin with them and avoid the temptation to blame the problem on the team members, presuming they lack courage or are introverted by personality.
Leaders and team members who have developed an ethic of accountability stand out, especially in comparison to those who have developed the opposite worldview. Some people always look to external factors for whatever goes wrong and point to themselves only when things go right. They are full of excuses and justifications and wear them like a shield of self-defense. This stunts personal growth and development and makes leadership credibility nearly impossible to attain.
In contrast, those with an ethic of accountability presume they play the central role in whatever happens in their world, even when their contribution is objectively minuscule. They know that looking inward at what role they have played changes the way they lead in a powerful way. They see this ethic as a reason why people respect them and look to their leadership as a path forward in any situation.
As it turns out, an ethic of extreme accountability may be the most formidable weapon a leader can have.