How Accountable Are You?

July 25th, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized by

On a scale of 1 to 10, how accountable would you say you are, and why?

If accountability does not exist at the top of an organization, it is unlikely that those in the middle of the organization can be depended upon to act in accountable ways.

Sometimes, leaders pretend not to see certain problems and fail to own the need to step up.

One cold January morning in 1986, I remember working my way through the cafeteria line at Ford Motor Company World Headquarters when we learned of the Challenger tragedy.

As an avid follower of the space program, I was devastated by the news of the space shuttle explosion and the death of all seven astronauts aboard.

It was soon determined that the rubber O-rings, which had been designed to separate sections of the rocket booster during ascent, had failed due to cold temperatures on the morning of the launch.

Some engineers at Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the O-rings, along with certain NASA employees, unsuccessfully tried to cancel the launch that day due to the unusually cold temperatures. They warned NASA leaders about the possibility of O-ring failure.

Despite these concerns, NASA proceeded with the launch. The leaders in charge dismissed, ignored and denied the engineers’ worst-case predictions.

If NASA leaders had studied the warnings from the engineers more closely, they might have averted the horrible disaster. NASA has since implemented several organizational changes designed to encourage greater communication across all levels and promote the acceptance of opposing points of view.

Let’s consider another example of ignoring or denying facts as they accumulate: the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster.

For more than a decade, researchers had been questioning the viability of the levees in place around New Orleans, arguing that they were not strong enough to protect the city from a serious hurricane.

Study after study pointed to the structural weakness of the levees and predicted the current levees would fail against a Level 3 hurricane, let alone a Level 5 storm like Katrina.

Despite years of warnings, the city did not sufficiently shore up the levee system around New Orleans. Of course, we all know what happened when the levees failed—and many of us find ourselves asking why leaders failed to act sooner.

It takes courage to speak the truth—and it takes conviction to overcome all the pressures and self interests that work against taking a stand. However, effective leaders always choose to hold themselves accountable.

While playing the victim may seem like the easier route, you can see in these two examples how ignoring and denying reality can lead to disastrous results. Leaders who choose to play the victim often pay a steep price in the end.

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