Finger Pointing

Does it seem to you…as it does to me…that we are at the nadir of accountability? When things go badly for politicians, business leaders and everyday folks, our first reaction seems to be to revert to childhood and respond as a 5-year-old would: “It’s not my fault!”

Finger pointing has been elevated to a fine art in politics. If I have to hear another politician blame “Washington” for the problem—despite having been in office for several terms—I’ll be forced to seek hospitalization. It’s always the other guy, or the other party, or the economy, or someone or something else. But never, never me.

My dream is to hear a politician stand up and say, “I am accountable for this. I was here. I am part of the problem.” I’d settle for a CEO saying, “It’s my leadership that has led us into this mess,” explaining how s/he is taking accountability for the debacle, and then—without the requisite zillion dollar platinum parachute—the CEO just leaves. No mention, please, of “wanting to spend more time with my family.”

I admit that’s a long shot. It’s just our nature to foist off missteps on someone else. And granted, rarely can anything be laid at the feet of one person. But there is a difference between saying “I did it” and “I am accountable for it.”

We are all accountable for a lot more things that we believe. As a citizen, I am accountable for both the good and the bad of the body politic. I may not have the same level of power as some others, but I am still accountable. There is always something I can do differently.

If I am part of an organization, I am accountable for both the good and the bad. Others may have more responsibility, but as long as I am in the mix, I am accountable.

Though you have to search, it is possible to find examples of accountability. Years ago, I asked my friend Gregg Anderson, historian and teacher, to find me an accountability example from history. He replied by telling me the story of Gallipoli. In World War I, the Allies invaded the island of Gallipoli in order to open up a route to their Russian allies. The plan was solid enough, though based on several of what would prove to be erroneous assumptions. But the campaign was doomed by operational errors, and after several months, the Allies withdrew. Their objective had not been achieved, and the cost was nearly 500,000 casualties on both sides.

As an architect of the campaign (but not the only one), Winston Churchill accepted accountability for the failure. He resigned from the government, and went to the Western Front where he commanded an infantry battalion. The cost of taking accountability was 20 years in the political wilderness, eventually returning as Prime Minister to lead Great Britain in World War II.

A more current example occurred in March of this year at a Domino’s Pizza in Chicago. When a customer’s order was both late and wrong, the managing partner of 7 stores and the store manager both took accountability. If you want to see how it’s done (as well as great example of customer service recovery), you can watch their video here.

So, how can we all be more accountable? Well, I’ll start with me. I am accountable for the lack of accountability in my world, so I can start by taking more accountability in my life. Perhaps I can be a better example.

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