“The buck stops here.” – Harry Truman

Those are great words uttered by one of our former presidents. In a way, it’s fair and unfair at the same time.

leadership accountability

I’m one of those people who believes management is responsible for a lot of their employees behavior while at work. If customer service is lacking, no matter the department or reason, it’s management’s problem. If employees don’t fully understand the processes for the work they do, it’s management’s fault. As the leader of people, management is accountable for how those people do their job.

With that said, blaming leadership for everything that happens in the workplace isn’t an absolute. For instance, you can’t blame leaders if one of their employees goes on a rampage and start hurting or killing other employees if they’re not responsible for triggering the outburst. Leaders can’t be blamed if one of their employees turns out to be someone who abuses their spouse or ends up being a serial killer.

If an employee is skimming funds from a client’s account, or embezzling from the company, that’s a different issue. Even if the leader can’t figure it out, it’s imperative that they bring the possibility to someone’s attention.

Many years ago when I was working as a regional director, I kept looking at the books at one of the out of town offices that reported to me on a monthly basis. They appeared to be correct and the office was efficient, but I kept thinking something didn’t quite add up.

I mentioned it to the vice president of the company, who’d known the office manager longer than me, and he said he trusted her and the employee who reported to her. On a whim he did go visit her and casually looked at the ledger sheets, and he reported to me that they’d always looked like that. I never let go of that feeling, but I didn’t overly worry about it because of the vice president’s words.

Six months after I left that organization, the other employee in the office noticed something one day that the manager of the office had done, called the vice president, and a full audit was conducted. They discovered that the office manager had indeed been skimming funds from the client’s account for about four years.

I felt vindicated because I’d had the feeling that something was wrong and reported it, even if I couldn’t prove it at the time. It also hadn’t started on my watch, even though it kept occurring throughout the time I was responsible for that office.

At the same time, I felt guilty that I hadn’t been able to figure it out on my own. I still believe that if I’d been in that location full time that I’d have discovered the variances, tracked the problem down and resolved it without needing an outside audit. It was something that stuck with me from that point on whenever I went into another organization.

Blame and accountability are interesting concepts for both consumers and employers. Some consumers blame everyone in the company for their issues, no matter how illogical it is to do so. I’m one of those people who knows that yelling at customer service people for things the company’s done that irk me makes no sense. Those people had nothing to do with my initial concern. Once they start talking to me, if I start getting irritated suddenly it is their fault and, by extension, the fault of leadership for either bad training or bad policies.

Some employers blame everything on someone else rather than own up to either their own failing or the failing of the organization. We’ve seen a lot of that over the past couple of years in the banking industry.

There’s a difference between leadership accountability and blame. Leaders are accountable for things they should know, whether or not they know them. Leaders are to blame when they actually knew, didn’t train others properly or did nothing, hoping the problems would go away.

Leadership that doesn’t show accountability, tries to blame or doesn’t support its employees when issues crop up will find that their employees won’t trust them. If employees don’t trust leadership, no one else will either.

Managers aren’t always accountable for the actions of others if it doesn’t apply to the workplace, and sometimes even if it does. Regardless, they should act like they are until all avenues are examined. It’s a more honest way to do business, and everything will be easier to handle later on.
 

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