The Accountable Leader

Self-destructing leaders are nothing new. Sadly, it’s a very common thread throughout history – powerful leaders, celebrities, and other noteworthy people who are put on pedestals regularly fall off (or even jump off) the pinnacle.

Lisa Petrilli and I decided to probe this leadership problem for Leadership Chat this week – I’d urge you to read Lisa’s excellent post outlining the tragic mix of hubris and leadership.

There is one area of preventive medicine I’d like to focus on with this post. And that is the practice of accountability.

To be accountable is, according to, to be subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable. In other words: no Lone Rangers!

Power and influence can easily lead to isolation. Mix in some hubris, some above-the-hoi-polloi arrogance, and you have a potent recipe for disaster.

For years, I have known about Harold Camping, and his Family Radio ministry (Mr. Camping is the guy who was predicting the rapture for earlier this month). Over the years, he has increasingly isolated himself from the broader church; in fact, arrogating to himself the position of being a prophet,  above the backslidden church at large. One failed prophecy about the end of the world in 1994 did not keep him from compounding his error, upon which he is now doubling down again. What’s going on here?

He is (apparently) not accountable to anyone but himself. Even – especially – spiritual leaders need accountability. No checks, no balances, no wisdom from sage advisers, no people willing to get in your face and tell you when you’re adrift – disaster looms. Don’t tell me you only answer to a “Higher Authority” (aka God). If you truly live in the fear of God, you have no problem being accountable to other human beings.

And this is hardly just a church problem. Whether it’s the intoxication of corporate power, or the vanity inflated by a rabid fan base, or the presumption that comes from feeling like one is a unique conduit of truth, the end result will be the same if there is no real-world, straight-shooting accountability. People end up thinking they can rape a maid, or seduce an intern, or skim some profits, or cover up all sorts of folly when there’s no-one to answer to.

So, what is a leader to do? It’s straightforward – have the guts and humility (and concern for your own reputation and the good of your family) to pro-actively gather some solid people around who will tell you the truth and kick you around a bit when you need it. And do it BEFORE you need it – once you rise up to a certain level of power, it’s that much harder to find people who will treat you as a peer.

And if your company has a Board of Directors that doesn’t notice when a company leader is buying $3,000 umbrella stands….it’s time to start over and build in some real accountability. We don’t need any more Tycos and Enrons around here…

Hubris or humility. You going to hew the line….one way or another.

Tonight at 8 pm ET, let’s discuss leadership and hubris! You’ll find the LeadershipChat community to be warm and supportive, people who are wrestling through the same things you are – and who, in small but growing ways, are learning accountability with each other.

And, to make your chat experience even more enjoyable, try out ChatTagged, a custom-made Twitter client for helping manage your on-line chat interactions!

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

One Response to The Accountable Leader

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