Now, you say, how can accountability boil down to trust? Ah, good question!
I was privileged to work for the same boss for 20 years – twice as an employee, once as an external consultant. When I think of trust in the business world, I realize that he taught me a lot about trust. When he retired, I assumed my next boss was trustworthy, and was sorely mistaken. The contrast provided some insight for me into trust, which I probably didn’t fully appreciate until it was missing.
As I think back, I see lessons he taught me that I hope I model to others.
He told us everything.
He was an insider in the company, privy to business deals that he could not legally share with us, his leadership team. But barring legal constraints, we were aware of tangible and intangible information regarding the organization, the people and the business. When we interacted with peers it was obvious that they never received the scope of information we received.
But what I realized much later is that he also trusted us to pass the information on, or not. He never said, “I’m telling you this, but don’t share with your team.” He trusted that we would trust our teams in the same was he trusted us. Our teams were also very well informed.
He was authentic.
There was never a question about who he was, or what he believed. He wore his values on his sleeve, and his words and his behavior matched.
I could say anything without fear of retribution.
And boy, sometimes I did. Working for an organization that was foundering in the wake of the real estate, credit and mortgage crisis of the late 2000s, I questioned everything – and sometimes forcefully. I questioned the CEO’s decisions, I questioned the CFO’s analysis, I questioned the competence of business unit leaders.
He listened patiently (sometimes shaking his head and I could hear him think, “Oh for heaven sakes, stop!”) but he always closed the conversation. He didn’t let it dangle without providing his own insight into what he saw differently, and sometimes we would agree to disagree. But he never minimized or brushed off my input.
He treated us equally and fairly – sometimes going overboard to not play favorites.
When he shared critical information, he shared it with all members of his leadership team, and fully expected that we would work together to use the information wisely and collectively.
He provided development opportunities to everyone, and balanced the needs of the organization with the development needs of his team.
He trusted us to lead.
He asked good questions about what we were doing, and sometimes those questions caused me to rethink my position. But he let me make the decision. When I made the wrong one, he picked me back up and asked me what I learned.
What does all this have to do with accountability?
As I look back on those years working for a boss who I trusted implicitly, and who trusted me, I realize that he didn’t have to dangle accountability to me. I wanted to do a good job, do the right thing – because I was trusted to do so.
I never had to question, should I say this or should I do this. I knew that it was my responsibility to do good work leading to a good decision. No one had to direct me or guide me; I was trusted to do good work.
As I reflect with the clarity of retrospect, that puts a whole new spin on accountability for me. I think that the best accountability is holding yourself accountable because you are trusted to do so.
Anyway, that’s what my retrospective reflection says to me. I welcome your thoughts.