Accountability and Consequences

Here is a critical question for accountable teams. Let’s say you know for certain that the leader you report to is making a choice that undermines an important commitment–a choice that does not align with the organization’s stated values. What do you do?

Do you speak up? Do you find an appropriate place and time to share your perspective that the commitments and the values of your organization are being compromised? Or do you make excuses? Do you keep your silence…and justify that silence by telling yourself that the leader must know something you don’t? That loyalty is part of your job?

I have news for you: If you sell yourself or others those kinds of excuses, there are going to be consequences. And they are not going to be pretty.

In this situation, you must find a time and place to speak up to the leader. Why? Because values are not just for the team. They are for everybody. Commitments are not just for the team. They are for everybody. Accountable leaders know that. Accountable leaders also know that, from time to time, they are going to need feedback and course corrections. Unaccountable leaders push back when feedback and course corrections about the values come their way. Accountable leaders do not push back. You need to know which kind of leader you are working for. And you need to understand the consequences of continuing to work for someone who is not accountable.

Of course, there are consequences for all of our actions and decisions. And yes, the actions and decisions of people with formal leadership positions can carry enormous weight. But we sometimes lose sight of the reality that there are consequences when followers choose not to be accountable to the most important commitments.

Two of the most vital commitments are the commitment to tell the truth and the commitment to “It’s All of Us.” As followers, we need to uphold them. Consider the following example. Suppose one of your organization’s stated values is Safety, and that your leader, and the company as a whole, has defined that value as follows: Maintaining a physically and emotionally safe space for employees and customers at all times.

Now suppose you come across indisputable, first-hand evidence of an employee who is routinely and repeatedly compromising the safety of both customers and employees. And suppose this employee is a close family member of your CEO who boasts that there will be no consequences for his actions. What do you do?

You must speak up. There is no definition of “loyalty” that justifies staying silent in this situation. If you are a follower who reports directly to this CEO, you must raise the issue with the leader and watch what happens next. There is no gray area here. The response you get will tell you exactly what kind of leader you are reporting to…and what kind of organization that leader is truly committed to building. If the leader is aligned with the values, there will be internal consequences for not living the values, even for–especially for–a close family member. Period.

In the real world there are consequences for choices and words that undermine the critical values and commitments of the organization. Pretending there aren’t consequences is a dangerous delusion, one that will catch up with the organization, with the leader, and yes, with those who enable the leader.

In any situation, you can tell what someone believes by their actions and by their inactions. If you tell the leader the truth about how the values are being undermined, and the leader ignores it, the leader does not have those values. By the same token, if you are a follower who has the opportunity to tell a leader the truth about a breach of the values, and you choose not to do that, you do not have those values.

I understand that it is not always easy to speak up. I understand that we may not feel like making waves. And I understand that unexpected, stressful situations can sometimes make conversations difficult. But guess what? Sometimes those difficult conversations have to happen.

Accountability is not just for leaders. Accountability is for everybody. If you report to someone who is not supporting the values your organization is supposedly built upon, you face a tough choice. You either speak up until the situation changes, or you go someplace else. If it is possible for you to do so, I think it is worth speaking up.

That may sound harsh, but understand why I say it: There are always consequences for not speaking up in that situation. There are consequences for staying in that organization and supporting that leader when you can tell the values are crumbling. There are consequences for aiding and abetting when you know that things are not right. There are consequences if the C-suite or the board of directors makes excuses and look the other way–because the stock price is up at the moment, or because a major product launch is underway, or because they are busy with other issues. These are excuses. And excuses do not make a bit of difference if the boat you are on is headed for an iceberg. You will sink just as fast with an excuse as you will without one. And so will everyone else on the boat.

Is it always easy to take a stand for accountability? Maybe not. Is it better than having to deal with the consequences of not taking a stand for accountability? Absolutely.

Speak up when you see the organization’s values being compromised. Then make your best decision about whether you are on the right ship.

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