If you haven’t noticed, the world has changed within the last five months. The world had shut down like never before and caused leaders all over the world to rely on maxims rather than theory to guide them this difficult time. We had little to no facts to rely on. What we thought we knew, we were wrong about and what we said was wrong, somehow was right. Despite the chaos and confusion there were some glimpses of spectacular leadership the stood out to me. On May 11, 2020, the 52nd day of California quarantine lockdown, Elon Musk tweeted, “Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rule. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me” (Musk, 2020). I found this level of accountability and a decision like this to be made with such a high risk for the greater good of his company quite admirable. I began to think, what is accountability and why is it important for leadership.
Cornett (2018) states, “Accountability occurs when individuals reliably deliver on their commitments showing others they can be trusted to do what they say they’ll do. Leaders further demonstrate accountability by taking responsibility for the outcomes of their actions and decisions and successfully transforming effort into results.” I think there are two very important take aways from that statement. First, the ability as a leader to deliver what you say you will. This action is important for building trust within your team and with your supervision. I do not have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I’ve been told I’d get a call back, I’d receive an email, or delivering a product by a certain deadline only to be let down. Secondly, leaders take responsibility for the outcome of their decisions. When I started a new position as a flightline expediter, I remember making all kinds of bad decisions but I always owned up to it and maybe more importantly when I decided to make a decision about something, I let my team know that I would always own up to the consequence from my supervisor and not throw my subordinates and peers under the bus. I think accountability on this level provides leaders an open mind for growth. By owning up to your mistakes, one should be able to vow to not repeat said mistakes and learn from these events.
In 1974 Ralph Stogdill conducted a survey on leadership and identified 10 traits that were identified with leadership and among them was the, “willingness to accept consequences of decision and action” (Northouse, 2016, p. 20). As we learned from the Northouse readings, among the components of leadership is the necessity of forming a group context. Primarily this group context is between the leader and their subordinates and the sinew that holds this relationship together is trust. I not know of another way to build trust aside from accountability. We see this though the parent-child relationship, my kids hold me and my wife accountable for providing for them and keep them safe. Trust is built through accountability in every relationship and this is why it is important for leadership. If subordinates cannot trust their leadership then they will never believe that their leaders have their best interest in them.
With current climate that we are in I could only hope that all leaders not only become accountable for their actions but also learn from them. I remember my first day on my expediting job, I had made a huge mistake. I got yelled at by my supervisor over the radio so that everyone could hear. He also called over the radio to meet him so that everyone could watch him yell at me. I never backed down from my mistake and didn’t blame anyone else for it. A couple hours later he called me into his office and genuinely provided me with constructive feedback which I greatly appreciated. I could only imagine the amount of trust that I had built that day forward by owning to my mistake. I’ve worked with only a handful of people who were never accountable for their actions. Nothing was ever their fault and it was always because someone else didn’t do something which made them not able to deliver on their word. In times like this, we need more leaders like Elon Musk, willing to take risks and stay accountable for their actions.
Cornett, Ian. 5 Ways to Demonstrate Leadership Accountability & Ensure it in Others. 2018, July 10. Eagle’s Flight. Retreived from https://www.eaglesflight.com/blog/5-ways-to-demonstrate-leadership-accountability-ensure-it-in-others
Northouse, P. G. Leadership: Theory and Practice. [MBS Direct]. Retrieved from https://mbsdirect.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781483382715/
Musk, Elon. 2020, May 11. Twitter. Retreived from https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1259945593805221891?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1259945593805221891&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fthedriven.io%2F2020%2F05%2F12%2Felon-musk-confirms-tesla-is-making-electric-cars-again-in-fremont%2F