Accountability is All About Relationships

Sam Silverstein Blog

Following through on the commitment “It’s all of us.”

When a leader commits to the value I call “It’s all of us,” that leader is personally committing to a rewarding relationship with every single member of the team.

These leaders have the attitude of “We succeed together; we fail together; we are all on the journey together.” They know that if one person looks good, the whole team looks good … and if one person looks bad, the whole team looks bad. They are willing to connect with, engage with, and support everyone on the team, regardless of rank, because they know that is part of the process of building something that is bigger than they are. The accountable leader knows their commitment to that value of “It’s all of us! is contagious – everyone on the team picks up on it and tries to emulate it – and they know that “It’s all of us” reinforces the essential reality that accountability in the workplace is all about relationships.

If there is someone on your team with whom you as a leader have no rewarding relationship, you can expect no accountability from that person … because you have demonstrated no accountability!

Again: No relationship … no accountability.

On the other hand … when there is a personal commitment to an “it’s all of us” relationship … when the leader does model that value, is personally committed to it, and makes sure it is a personal accountability to every person on the team… an amazing thing happens. Everyone on the team buys into “It’s all of us,” regardless of the role that individual plays … and every member of the team becomes accountable to every other member.

Here’s a true story about the “it’s all of us” value I’d like to share with you. It’s all about relationships. Recently, students at Bristol University, which is in the UK, started a crowdfunding campaign. They wanted to send to Herman Gordon, a beloved janitor who works at the university, on his first vacation in nearly a decade. They posted the idea online, and it took off. The campaign quickly reached its financial goal. As a result, Gordon, who hails from Jamaica, got an envelope stuffed with cash – about £1500, or roughly $2000 — and the following letter:

“On behalf of the students at Bristol, we would like to thank you for all the positive energy you have given to us throughout the years. You have brightened many of our days and we want you to know that we love and appreciate you. We have come together to give you a special gift as our way of saying thank you. Have a lovely summer!”

You can see Gordon’s emotional reaction to the gift here.

I love stories with happy endings, because we don’t get enough of them these days. This one qualifies. Gordon and his wife spent a relaxing week in Kingston, and he got to see his family in Jamaica for the first time in years.

As I hope you have gathered by now, what happened to Herman Gordon is what being personally accountable to the commitment “It’s all of us” looks like in action. That’s what those kids did: They proved, by their actions, their commitment to “it’s all of us.”

Notice that the college kids who made this happen didn’t employ Gordon. They weren’t responsible for his annual performance evaluation. They didn’t set up his benefits package. They just loved the sunny disposition he brought to his encounters with them as he did his job. They didn’t let the fact that Gordon supposedly occupied a “low position” on the organizational chart keep them from expressing themselves about something important. They understood, I think, that when it comes to workplace relationships, everything connects. That’s a lesson that any leader can benefit from.

Those college kids decided that Herman Gordon deserved to know just how grateful they were for everything he did. They took action on that decision …. they made something good happen … and they set a great example for others. When CNN picked up the story, the whole world got a good look at that example!

Now here are some questions for accountable leaders:

  • Who is the “lowest-ranking” member of your team? What is your relationship like with that person? Does that person feel appreciated for what he or she does? How do you know? What steps have you personally taken to send that message?
  • What would happen if each member of your team felt as appreciated for their contribution as Herman Gordon now feels for his contribution?
  • What could your team accomplish if you were personally committed to the value “it’s all of us” – and if you found a way to demonstrate that commitment to every single member of your team?