Accountable Leadership Is Leadership that Creates a Safe Place to Work

The fact that you occupy a leadership position on the organizational chart does not mean you are an accountable leader. Case in point: Katarzyna Richter, director of LOT Polish Airlines.

During a flight she took on British Airways, one of her chief competitors, Richter apparently took clandestine photographs of members of the flight crew serving her, and later posted those photos on Facebook with degrading commentaries: “Today,” she wrote in Polish that was quickly translated into English, “my attention was drawn to grooming and appearance of British Airways cabin crew members: unpolished shoes, holes in tights, too tight uniform, double chin, rotten and uneven teeth, messy hairstyle.” These comments were not only mean, but also revealing of how Richter sees people.

If that is the way she publicly describes strangers who are serving her on an international flight, what do you suppose she says about the people who work for her?

Richter may have been a “leader” in some technical sense, but she clearly failed the accountable leadership test with that post. Accountable leaders create a physically and emotionally safe place to work. That is one of their core commitments. When you value people enough to focus on creating a safe place for them to work, then they can focus on productivity and creating value for customers. When people are thankful for the safe environment that you have created, they know that their productivity will benefit everyone, including themselves. If, on the other hand, they are afraid of being attacked — or shamed on social media — that is a leadership failure. And Richter, clearly, had trouble creating that kind of safe space.

It will come as no surprise, perhaps, to learn that shortly after this story broke, Richter was fired from her senior position at LOT Polish Airlines. Her sad story does, however, carry a positive message: If we can remember how vitally important it is to create a safe space, not just for employees, but for everyone we encounter during the course of the day, then we will be one step closer to earning the title of “accountable leader” — whatever it says on our business card.

How do you see the people around you? Do you see their potential first or their flaws? Are you striving to be nonjudgmental about the people you work with? Are you creating a space where people feel safe, so they are free to fulfill their potential, be their best, and also be accountable?

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