Accountability has been a backstop of our society for decades. From the media's vetting of claims posited by governmental leaders to editors brutalizing writers' work with an abundance of red ink, we have long attempted to hold ourselves accountable for what we say, write, and do.
Courtney Lynch, the author of "Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success," paints a picture of our ideal model of accountability quite succinctly:
"Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame."
This rings true, especially in a capitalist culture when profits, not morality, have a tendency to be the ruler against which all acts are measured. But there's something missing in Lynch's quote that I think worth filling in. Namely: Who keeps a leader accountable?
First, let me say: Yes, it is possible to hold yourself accountable for your own actions, but depending on this to take the right action 100% of the time is like driving permanently on a spare tire. At some point, it just won't be able to handle the strain and, consequently, bust.
Instead of self-reliance, I believe it's critical that a leader take on what I call a "personal ombudsman." Big title for a simple job? Perhaps. But hear me out...
In most business settings, an ombudsman plays a key legal and financial role, ensuring that clients/customers receive fair, legal, financially equitable treatment from business staff.
When a greedy salesperson, for example, attempts to sidestep regulations to save a few bucks, the ombudsman intervenes, shakes their finger, and forces the legally correct decision to be made. This, naturally, protects the business's reputation and precludes legal action.
Leaders, however inspiring, are just as susceptible to going astray. Forgetting their position in the spotlight, they may act out against a competitor, speak ill of someone in government, even utter racial slurs.
These singular actions can topple leadership faster than a card castle. There is no absolute forgiveness in the court of public opinion, and as leaders are the face of their business, what they do reflects the position of their company. Ergo, if they fall, so does their business.
Case in point: A CEO I once worked for who, when upset with one of his managers, decided to fire him without warning. No consult with staff; no time for consideration. Just hack and dash.
The backlash was tremendous -- not only from employees but from clients who had built solid relationships with the vaunted manager. The fallout was grim: tanking sales, sullied reputation, lack of trust in the industry. It was a mess.
This mistake is not limited to ego-driven CEOs or unstable business leaders; it can cripple anyone, toppling businesses of all shapes, stripes, and sizes.
Which brings me to the most important question of the article: Who protects you from your own flops?
While you may think a friend or spouse already serves this role, their opinions -- however helpful -- are not rooted in holistic concern for your company. No; you need someone dedicated to shoring you up as a leader and avoiding the pitfalls of momentary weakness, doubt, laziness, and greed. You need a personal ombudsman who knows you, your company, and your industry well enough to be the voice of measured reason.
This is the person with whom you vet your speeches; your meeting talking points; your communications in a crisis; your mission and vision; your daily angst, fear, and foibles. This is a person who will see the worst of you, professionally and personally -- but only so that you can be your best.
Let me be clear: This will not be the only person examining and approving decisions for your company. There will obviously be other stakeholders, managers, and leaders who need to weigh in on what you propose. But the first line of examination should almost always be your ombudsman. (Or, as I have cheekily taken to calling it, "The Notorious O-M-B.")
So enough of this stubborn self-reliance. Who will you make your Notorious O-M-B?