To Whom Are You Accountable?
Leaders often want to hold everyone accountable but themselves. However, I have seen that the best leaders seek accountability. Today I want to challenge you to ask several hard questions about your leadership when it comes to your own accountability.
A few weeks ago when I was in London for a conference, I was exposed to the British world of political leadership, met a few Members of Parliament, and learned of a pre-imminent British journalist and Member of Parliament, Tony Benn, who vigorously taught five indispensable questions people must ask of their leaders to ensure accountability.
I want to present these questions to you and give you my take on them. [You may also like to read my article: To What Do You Hold Yourself Accountable?] Even though Tony posed these questions to be asked of political leaders in representative democracies, I believe they apply to all leaders in all settings. These questions are what we must ask of our leaders. They are what we must ask of ourselves.
1—“What power have you got?”
The first level of accountability is being clear what roles you are supposed to play, and what roles you are supposed to leave to others. Sometimes leaders believe they have unrestrained power even when they don’t. A leader’s role, authority, and responsibilities should be clearly defined . One leader and mentor I learned accountability from is Dr. Albert Reyes, President and CEO of Buckner International. As a member of the board, I get to see Dr. Reyes in action. Even though he has much more experience than any of the board members in my opinion, he tells the board, “I work for you.” Dr. Reyes is clear that the board should set the strategic vision for the organization. He participates in the discussion but does not try to take that power away from the board.
2—“Where did you get it from?”
Knowing where your power and authority come from is key to keeping ourselves accountable. Politicians who forget that the people they represent are their bosses often become despots. People who cannot, or choose not to, hold their politicians accountable will aid these leaders on their journey toward authoritarianism. Pastors who forget their position comes from their congregants, elders, or bishops are susceptible to operating with no accountability and become dangerously ineffective.
3—“In whose interests do you use it?”
We must not only know what our power is, and who gives it, but also remain clear who is the primary beneficiary of this power. Sadly, many presidents of countries around the world use their power to fill their own pockets and those of their families and friends. CEO’s of hospitals who are not mindful that their power should be directed to help patients, begin focusing on profits and personal bonuses, and thus become susceptible to hurt the people they are supposed to help.
4—“To whom are you accountable?”
Who gives you a yearly evaluation? Who has been invited by you and asked by the system you operate under to evaluate your work and coach you? I have been on the board of several organizations. In the best ones, the executive committee of the board evaluates the CEO. Some, especially if the CEO is the founder, don’t get any real evaluation. No one seems to have the power to speak the hard truths. These organizations and these leaders never excel beyond a certain point because there is no one who will point out their blind spots.
If like me, you are the owner of your organization, we hold the highest position in the company. I don’t have a board. So to whom am I accountable? This is a problem for business owners. We often don’t have an accountability structure. One option is to have your direct reports evaluate you, but if you don’t initiate it and make sure they share the hard truths, it will not happen.
5—“How do we get rid of you?”
When people don’t have a system set in place to get rid of their leader, the organization suffers, the country suffers, the church suffers, or the company suffers. That’s when we see revolutions, church splits, or organizations fractured. As leaders, we must insist that the organizations we lead not only have a system in place to hold their leaders accountable, but also have the means by which people are able to get rid of the leader. This step cannot be applied to privately owned organizations. But maybe that’s why the most successful organizations around the world are not those which are privately owned.
Even though this is not an easy subject to wrestle with and establish for leaders, especially the top leader, especially when that top leader is us, I believe that we must.