I am Accountable – are you sure?  by Michael Cahill

All along my employment journey, I have had positions that had varying amounts of responsibility, and I believed I held myself very accountable. If asked in the summer of 2008 (when I became CEO of a publicly traded company), how accountable I held myself, I would have answered that I held myself extremely accountable.

I was wrong.

That is hard to say, and it took me a few years to see the light, and probably another year or so to admit it. What happened?

I was in front of the very same board (I was CEO of the company’s largest subsidiary prior to the summer of 2008). I knew all the details and activities of the company. However, there was now no one between me and the directors. One of the directors sole focus was holding the CEO accountable – period.

At first, I thought it was about blame. Then I thought is was just about picking on me. Then I thought is was personal.

Once again, I was wrong.

This director did not care about blame. It was not personal, and he was not picking on me. He just cared about what I was going to do to correct things going forward and to insure poor results did not reoccur.

He did not care how it happened, or who did it. He did not care if 15 of the 16 key metrics were good. He wanted to know why all sixteen were not good. What was I doing about the one bad metric?

I could not play CYA. I could not say that overall we were good. I could not use any other tactic to get around it. I had to own everything. I was CEO because a great majority of my decisions were good ones. I was CEO because a great majority of my actions were the right ones. I was CEO because I had selected the right strategies. However, as CEO I had to be held accountable for 100% of what is going on. It was the board’s job to hold me to that standard.

A funny thing happened along the way. I became more and more comfortable with this level of accountability. I recognized it was not about blame. It was about always getting better. It was about improvement. It was about be able to face adversity and take on that challenge versus hiding from it. The more accountability I took, the easier it became.

Errors or bad results are just challenges to overcome. Bad things happen – always. It is not about avoidance, but honestly admitting these ‘bad things’ and coming forward with solutions and actions to overcome them.

So how do you respond when bad things happen? Do you blame others? Do you divert attention? Do you CYA? Do you hide, or do you own it, see it as a challenge, and come back with solutions, ideas, and tactics to overcome the issues?

I want to work with people who hold themselves and others accountable. Easier said than done, but it is so worth it!

As an aside, as I was working on becoming more accountable and less defensive, I would sometimes say in a board meeting – “Thank you for pointing that out. I am sure I will appreciate it tomorrow.” I was half kidding, but once I got over my defensive posture, I knew I would be a better person for it.

The cool thing? The more accountable I became, the less fear I had. The less fear I had, the more accountable I was. It was a self fulfilling prophecy.

So next time something bad happens to you or to your company, or division, or team, go down the checklist. Did you hide? Did you blame? Did you CYA? Did you divert? Or did you state the issue and lay out how to correct the problem and keep it from happening again?

Who would you rather be around?






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