7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 3: personal accountability

Ego-massaging though it might be to blame your staff, your boss, your company culture, the system, the government, the environment, your cat, your spouse … sometimes, we all have to face the facts and admit “it’s me”.

Several years ago, I went through the corporate equivalent of a ‘messy divorce’, leaving an organisation with what I perceived as a bullying culture, and making a huge fuss as I did so. Whilst I don’t believe that the debacle was entirely my fault, it took me a LONG time (at least two years) to realise … and accept … that I had contributed to my own sorry situation.  “Mea culpa”.  At least in part.

Happily, leaving there was the best career move I ever made. But before looking at some of the factors that contribute to personal accountability, here’s a cautionary tale that illustrates what some leaders will do to avoid it …

Over the last couple of years, the UK’s members of parliament have opened our government up to ridicule and disgust by falsely claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses. In what can only be described as a national disgrace, our own elected politicians were, in effect, stealing from the public purse.

When the scandal was exposed, did they take personal accountability for their wrong-doing and offer to pay the money back? For the most part, they did these things instead:

Their first instinct was to try to ban investigations into the extent of the false expense claims. They tried to hide the facts.

When this failed, some claimed that the process for claiming expenses was faulty – it allowed too much scope for fraud. They blamed the system.

Some decided to show no remorse for their theft, and carry on as though it was ‘business as usual’. They tried to pretend it didn’t matter.

Some tried to say that their administrative staff had made mistakes. They tried to blame other people.

Others said that they didn’t fully understand the process, it was very complicated and easy to get wrong. They tried to claim ignorance as defence.

Others said that they were only doing what they saw other people doing. They blamed the culture of the organisation.

Some said that the demands of their job meant that they hadn’t been able to keep on top of all their receipts. They claimed that they had had no time.

At the end of the day, this wasn’t down to the system, the culture, other people’s mistakes or anything else: it was down to a group of people with no sense of personal accountability choosing to do the wrong thing – steal. End of.

The system has changed, and the worst culprits have gone from government office to prison. The damage done to the reputation of the British Government, however, and to the public’s perception of Members of Parliament, has been immense.

Personal accountability takes courage, humility and integrity:

Courage to accept the consequences, whether good, bad or indifferent, and to be prepared to make a stand when and where it counts.

Humility to admit that leaders aren’t infallible, and to ask the question “how might I be contributing / have contributed to the problem?”

Integrity to remain true to your own values, and not lose sight  – not just of who you are,  but of the leader that you aspire to become.

It’s not an optional extra for the leader. It’s an essential pre-requisite.


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