Why leaders must hold people accountable or deserve their failure

In the second module of Leadership In Action (Fortune's DIY leadership development system, see video), Steve Brown says:

"The way you evaluate a manager is not how badly people need the manager, but what can they do without the manager. The purpose of leadership, the purpose of management, is to create an entity that will function in the manager's absence."

In other words, a fundamental element of leadership is instilling in people the critical importance of being accountable. And when we don't, we set ourselves and our business up to fail. How could we possibly succeed if our employees rely on us to solve every problem they face, if they expect us to be on call 24/7 to be 'the answer person'? You would think no one would try to build or run a business with such dependent employees (unless failure's okay with them, I guess!).

However, all of us, all too often, deal with employees who clearly have no sense of accountability. For example:

On a Saturday afternoon a few months ago, Angelo, General Manager (Client Services) at Fortune Australia, went to an auto shop to purchase a new set of tyres. This was a place he'd been countless times before, always with good customer service. But on this occasion, it was only 15 minutes until closing time. And because the employee on duty had already started to clean up, he refused Angelo's business and directed him to one of the company's dealerships five kilometers away.

Angelo didn't drive the five kilometers; instead, he drove across the street to a competitor. And now, despite it being only 10 minutes to closing time, the competitor didn't flinch on Angelo's request. A mere 20 minutes later – now 10 minutes past closing time – Angelo had a fresh set of tyres.

Thanking the competitor, Angelo remarked, "I've always gone to the guys across the road, but when I asked them for these tyres, they refused. I'm surprised you were willing to do it."

The guy laughed. Angelo asked why.

"The boss must not be there."

Say what you want about the employee – sure, he should have helped Angelo – but for him to feel so little sense of obligation in the boss's absence, for him to feel like he could refuse a customer 15 minutes before closing time, that falls squarely on the shoulders of the boss. This is a failure of management, not of the employee. Everything begins and ends with management!

When the boss doesn't hold employees to account, the business absolutely fails in his or her absence to help the customer. And because that's the reason the business exists, it deserves to fail. This auto shop missed out on Angelo's business... not just on that day, but probably forever. What's the lifetime value of a customer worth to your business?

Posted: 11/25/2009 9:46:25 AM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
Filed under: accountability, leadership, management, manager
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