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Jun 12 2013

On Leaders and Accountability (Part 1) – Notes from the Cliff


leeellislgAs we continue through this year, I’ve been amazed at how the word “cliff” has dominated the news. We’re obviously not talking about the very dangerous physical sport of cliff diving which can be a thing of beauty and grace done by the professionals. No, it’s the political sport of dancing on the edge of a fiscal cliff that threatens our economy in a multitude of ways.  Unlike the real sport, this dance has not been very courageous (or graceful), and it threatens to pull even innocent bystanders right over the cliff.  Both political parties are guilty, so this is not a partisan soapbox; I‘m just using this example as a launching platform to address a more systemic problem affecting all areas of our society.

The fiscal “cliff” that we’re facing is just another (though very high profile) example of a culture-wide problem of non-accountability for actions and decisions. As I speak around the country or consult with clients, the issue of accountability comes up repeatedly as a foundational need. It’s pretty obvious that when people are not held accountable for performance (behaviors, decisions, words, actions), things go downhill.  It’s also clear that things work best when responsibility is clear and agreed upon and there are logical consequences for good and bad performance. Without accountability, excellence is merely a pipe dream and even average performance isn’t a realistic expectation.

In the case of the United States Government, our system of laws places the first responsibility on the citizens on the electorate.  We vote for our leaders and we get what we ask for.  What gets rewarded gets repeated and what gets punished usually diminishes or goes away.  Evidently we haven’t done a good job of holding people accountable for good stewardship with our money; hence we’re at a fiscal cliff that hasn’t gone away.  Ultimately someone or, most likely, all of us are going to suffer the consequences of non-accountability. And unfortunately those guilty of sloppy leadership and poor stewardship are often the very ones who slither their way out of the falling house of cards just in time to save their skins.

Even though there are 14 lessons in my book, Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, three foundational attributes rise to the top—character, courage, and competency. To put it another way, the best leaders push through their selfishness and fear to skillfully do the right thing even when it’s painful. And part of doing the right thing is being accountable for one’s actions.

With those attributes in mind, let’s reflect on this whole idea of accountability, and like most evaluations it’s good to begin with ourselves; that’s taking on the hard part first, isn’t it? Here’s a checklist to help you get started –

  • Find practical ways to hold yourself accountable either through people, processes, and/or principles.
  • Evaluate  the promises and commitments that you’ve  made that you need to follow through on.
  • Review the realistic consequences of your failures and mistakes—how it affects you and others.
  • As a leader, consider in what ways that you’re slipping as a leader by not holding others accountable.
  • Make it clear to others the specifics of your expectations and that they’re accountable to you or their immediate leader.
  • Share the consequences that will come if they don’t uphold their responsibilities.

Throughout this year, I’ll be addressing the idea of accountability from theoretical down to the very practical. My team at FreedomStar Media and Leadership Freedom are going to hold me accountable.  Who is holding you accountable to keep your commitments?

Please share your thoughts and experiences on accountability; I believe we can learn from each other. Just remember to focus on life and leadership in general and avoid partisan perspectives. Regardless of our personal views on public issues, bringing more accountability to our society will bring blessings to all this year.

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Lee Ellis 
is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC® & FreedomStar Media™.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
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He is the author of Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton



About the author

Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is a speaker and the author of Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, in which he shares stories from his experiences as a Vietnam POW and highlights leadership lessons learned in the camps. As president of Leadership Freedom, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee has consulted in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, executive development, and succession planning for more than 15 years. For more information, please visit www.leadingwithhonor.com.