Almost every leader has been there. One minute you’re living the company values, and the next you’re making an exception—for yourself. Perhaps you have an official policy of being super-responsive, but when an especially problematic client calls, you avoid him for a day or two. Or despite a stated commitment to respectful communication, you lose it and shout at Margaret in sales when she falls short of her quarterly goal once again. Or you have a no-excuses policy on deadlines, but when you personally miss one, you just finesse the client into giving an extension.
Sure, we all make mistakes. But Julie Miller and Brian Bedford, authors of Culture Without Accountability—WTF: What’s the Fix?, say that if you’re not holding yourself accountable to the values you say are important, don’t be surprised when your bad behavior starts to trickle down—and ultimately impacts the company’s bottom line.
“Employees pay attention to what you do, not what you say,” notes Miller. “Your behavior makes clear what the real corporate values are. So when you or other higher-level leaders ignore the company’s values, department managers think they can behave that way too. Meanwhile, employees will think they can ignore important change initiatives because management gets to ignore them.
“Soon you’ve got a company of employees who act however they want,” she adds. “High performers won’t want to work in an environment like that. They’ll leave. And what remains will be a company full of individuals promoting only their own self-interests. And as we’ve seen with companies like Lehman Brothers, Enron, and Bear Stearns, that will only end badly.”
Company leaders, say the authors, should be aware of what they call the “as above, so below” phenomenon: the concept in which employees mirror the behaviors of the successful leaders they see above them. The rationale is simple: “If they get ahead by behaving that way, then that’s what I’ll do.” That’s great when leaders are acting with accountability but it becomes a big problem when leaders don’t make accountability a priority.
Culture Without Accountability—WTF: What’s the Fix? explains what can happen when businesses, teams, families, and individuals shirk accountability. The book is full of real-life stories of what accountability looks like and what can go wrong in its absence. It offers a proven process for installing an accountability-based culture, a platform for success in business and in everyday life.
“To be successful, a company’s leaders must apply the relentless focus and commitment necessary to build the required culture and must serve as role models for the required behaviors,” says Bedford. “In the end, the establishment of a culture is all about how leaders behave and what behaviors they reward and discourage.”
Read on to learn the four critical actions leaders must take in order to create a winning culture.
Hold yourself accountable. Miller and Bedford give the example of Sir Alex Ferguson, the long-time coach of Manchester United soccer club, who held everyone, including himself, accountable to the credo “The club is more important than any individual.” No matter how skilled or important they were, if a player didn’t follow that rule, they were let go. Examples of his “no one is bigger than the club” ethic involved some of the biggest names in the club’s history, including David Beckham, whose larger-than-life persona became a distraction.
SAF was quick to hold himself accountable to the same high standards. When United lost the Premier League title, by the narrowest of margins, at the end of the 2012 season, he blamed himself, not the players. And when the team exited from the Champions League (the competition he held in the highest regard of all) at an early stage in the same season, he blamed his own team selections and tactics.