Accountability requires a conscious decision to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly associated with an individual’s or group of individuals’ decisions.
It also means facing consequences as well as seeking out praise. Gandhi is famous for summarizing the importance of accountability (and even adding a moral gravity to the idea) when he said, “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.”
And yet, everywhere you look, you can see examples of people and entities alike seeking to “escape” accountability.
Humans, as a whole, have a tendency to gravitate away from responsibility. Ancient Rome, for instance, is infamous for its “bread and circuses.”
The provocative term describes a period in history when the Roman people were satiated by the spoils of war. They had free food and entertainment and outsourced the responsibilities of Empire to those they considered their lessers. Slaves worked their way up the administrative ladders. Provincials and mercenaries were hired to defend the Roman heartland. And eventually, these outsiders consumed the helpless individuals who had hired them in the first place — those same Romans who had pushed away accountability in favor of comfort.
There are similar trends in modern culture. While we don’t have the same resources the Romans had, technology has filled that gap. Software does the grunt work and fights the wars now. Military personnel pilot drones from safe bunkers thousands of miles from the battlefront. More and more businesses are automating their marketing, communication, and other services.
This has led to what appears to be a growing apathy and an unwillingness to commit to responsibility. Thomas Lee-Devline, a writer for The Economist, recently highlighted a scenario in which he was “poking around” an online forum for tech workers. To his surprise, he found a thread where unemployed individuals were looking for recommendations for employment where they could “do no work” — i.e., 20 hours or less per week — and still earn over $200,000 annually.
The desire to succeed is there. But there is a conscious shuffling off of accountability to achieve it.
The effects run even deeper than remote battle fronts and comfy work environments, too. The larger American public (and many other cultures around the world) are growing accustomed to pushing accountability away. School loan debt is on the verge of being canceled en masse. Health benefits are becoming a full-fledged right. The impending question of universal basic income has become a strong point of contention for many politicians. In light of this, the question remains—How do we keep the C-suite accountable?
The most recent and easiest example of a lack of accountability in the C-suite came through the recent banking fiasco. Silicon Valley and Signature banks suddenly had a near-collapse due to reckless decision-making — including the fact that 90% of their deposits were uninsured. This should have spelled disaster, but accountability went out the window as the government stepped in, loans were offered, and buyouts took place.
These measures were clearly enacted to avoid the larger effects of such a monumental collapse, but they reinforce the argument, nonetheless. The “Nanny State” is alive and well. The executives at those banks made poor decisions and didn’t have to pay the full consequences for their actions- except for the loss of their jobs, equity stakes in their own companies/banks, There is a certain long-term reputational price they will inevitably pay by being connected to the high-profile failures within the banking industry. But who ends up carrying the burden? The taxpayers do. The risks that depositors should understand when their deposits exceed deposit insurance coverage become inconsequential. Risky decision making trends toward no accountability.
This lack of accountability is something that those in the C-suite should be careful to studiously avoid. They should never depend on third-party or federal support to bail them out of bad decision-making. On the contrary, the best executives are those who are willing to own their mistakes (and consequently make wiser initial decisions that lead to long-term success).
“The best executives are those who are willing to own their mistakes (and consequently make wiser initial decisions that lead to long-term success).”
These are the kind of individuals that we are always looking for as our team at the Stanton Chase expands our network and seeks to place high-quality executives within our client’s companies. We aren’t interested in reckless risk-takers.
Whether we’re recruiting a CRO, a CEO, or any other position, we look for honest, responsible individuals who understand the difference between calculated risks and dangerous decisions. That way, we can walk away from each placement knowing we’ve helped that client become a healthier, stronger, and more accountable company through the hiring process.
It’s these little efforts to retain and reinforce accountability that we can’t afford to lose. If even our leaders are allowed to operate without consequences, we’ll be living in a very different (and less desirable) world before long. Instead, let each man and woman shoulder their own responsibilities and put in that extra effort to ensure accountability remains a priority moving forward.
Peter Deragon is a Managing Director at Stanton Chase Los Angeles. He is also the Global Practice Leader of our Supply Chain, Logistics, and Transportation Practice Group. Additionally, Peter is active in the CFO Practice Group and Financial Services, where he started his career. He has 30-plus years of experience as a trusted adviser and manager in B2B environments. Peter also supports charitable organizations, especially those focused on ocean stewardship.
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