Friday, September 19, 2008

Accountability, Not Finger-Pointing

Our highly organized, many-layered society requires millions of leaders. They may be called chiefs, managers, presidents, executive directors, pastors, or whatever, but they are important people.

In short, here's the deal they make with their employer: "In exchange for a nice salary, some prestige, some perks, and the self-actualizing power of being 'in charge', I promise to understand and attend to the best interests of my employer at all times."

Implicit in the contract is the idea that the leader is capable of doing the job. Responsibilities are outlined, declarations are made, references are checked, other candidates are considered and rejected. Both parties shake hands and the leader starts leading. From that point on, whatever happens in that organization is his or her problem to deal with.

I was a 2nd lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division at age 20. At age 27 I was in charge of small audits for a large CPA firm. At 38, I managed the financial systems and kept the general ledger for a multi-billion dollar corporation. At one time, my staff and I had 16 critical projects going, simultaneously; millions of dollars in costs, and millions of dollars of risks if the projects went awry. After retirement, I was director of operations for a 100-member volunteer ambulance corps, a group that handled life-and-death situations and was subject to many government regulations. Consequently, I have a pretty good idea of what it means to be responsible.

I recall being taught the three possible responses that a second lieutenant can give a senior officer: "Yes, sir. No, sir. No excuse, sir." No equivocating. You get asked a direct question, you give a direct answer. This is the expectation of leadership. So, if you stay ahead of events, you work smart, you have a little good luck - you get medals or bonuses or cheers. If you don't anticipate, you get lazy, you get a bad break - you get demoted or fired or pillaried. But you are expected to stand up and be accountable for your successes and your failures. Leaders don't weasel, don't equivocate, don't whine, don't point fingers, and don't disappear.

Have you seen any leaders in Washington lately?

And, as a footnote: if one has to choose between two people for president of the United States, one might consider giving merit to the candidate who seems more action-oriented, more attuned to the issues, more able to work with people to achieve solutions, and more willing to stand up and be counted. On the other hand, if a candidate seems consumed with finger-pointing, dismiss him. What you see will be what you get.


Dave said...

Here's a bright note to the fiasco in which we find ourselves: Whomever becomes the next Pres, with whatever mix constitutes the next Congress will have no money whatsoever with which to do stupid things. Or am I being naive?

ThomasLB said...

I was really impressed by how referee Ed Hochuli handled himself when he blew the call last week at San Diego/Denver. He immediately admitted his mistake and said he was sorry.

I can't remember the last time I saw a politician do that.

Dave: They don't have any money now- but they've still got the credit cards.

Lifehiker said...

You make a good point, Dave.

Our current president had no money, either, but he has spent like the proverbial drunken sailor.

The next president can't spend over a tight budget without risking the dollar becoming toilet paper. He will have some very difficult choices and some tough news for the country. If he can sell his program, he'll get support, I hope.

Lifehiker said...
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Dave said...

I'm right and so are you Thomas; but, maybe, just maybe, we the people are just fed up enough....Sorry slipped into a dream there for a second.

Ron Davison said...

A great Deming quote:
You don't choose leaders, you choose managers.
I keep thinking that we try to recreate in positions what was first created by a person. Trying to institutionalize the next Gandhi or Jefferson would seem to, at best, obstruct the emergence of the next Gandhi or Jefferson.