Recently, I was talking to someone — I’ll call her Carol — who had seen one of my videos and heard a point I had shared about accountable leadership. She said, “It’s interesting, Sam, and I’m sure it’s helpful for your audience, but it’s not really relevant to me.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because I’m not a leader.”
This answer piqued my interest, because I knew Carol was a mother. I said, “What makes you say that?”
“Well, I don’t have a formal leadership position. I don’t have a title. I don’t have a business card. That’s who you’re talking to when you talk about accountable leadership, isn’t it?”
“Let me answer that question by posing another one,” I said. “Do you have a son?”
“You know I do,” she said, a little surprised at my question.
“Do you have influence over that son of yours?”
“Are you accountable for your son? By that I mean, are you responsible for some aspect of his well-being, and do you affect his life beyond a surface level?”
“Then you’re a leader,” I said.
I could see the wheels turning as she considered this.
“Leadership is not about your spot on the org chart,” I said, “and it’s not about whether you have a business card with your name on it. It’s about whether you have consciously taken on the role of being accountable for someone. You have. That means you’ve taken on something very important, and you’ve done that on purpose. That makes you a leader. That choice means you’re not just accountable to your son, but you’re also responsible for his welfare. And it means you have a special kind of impact and a special kind of influence on his life.”
Now Carol was curious. “Okay. What does it mean to be accountable to someone?”
“When you are accountable to someone, that person is responsible for some aspect of your well-being, and affects your life beyond a surface level. Your son is accountable to you, but he’s not accountable for you. That’s a whole different level. Just because someone is accountable to, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are accountable for. But if you are accountable for someone, you are also accountable to that person.”
“That makes sense. So … once I accept that I have responsibility for some aspect of someone else’s well-being, that’s a leadership role?”
“Yes. And a leadership role means you have influence. It also means you have taken on a role of stewardship. It means you are making important decisions that affect others, and you are acting in their best interests, not just your own. That’s true no matter what job title you have, and it’s just as true if you don’t have any formal job title.”
Carol nodded. “I see what you mean.” she said.
“So are you a leader?” I asked.
“I guess I must be,” Carol said. “I am accountable for lots of people — my son, my husband, other family members — and I have influence and impact on all of them. I am a leader!” She was smiling as she said this.
Here is the point. The defining characteristic of a leader is accepting accountability for someone else’s best interest. If someone looks to you for guidance and influence … if you know your decisions will influence them and affect their well being … if you accept the role of accountable for … that makes you a leader! That is a special responsibility, one worth noticing and celebrating. So notice it and celebrate it. You are a leader, no matter what other people say your title is!