By Frank J. Rich
Efforts to inform organizations of “authentic leadership” play variously well across the marketplace. Some, schooled in the principles and practices of leadership, are enamored of the process of learning more about it and warm to the opportunity. Others “show up” because they’re told to do so, or believe it’ll be bad for them if they don’t. It’s a common scene, whether on the speaking circuit or inside the bowels of an organization — some follow their beliefs, others their noses.
The principle in this discussion (I’m trusting that some of you are “believers”) is “oversight”— that elusive but necessary part of all endeavor that underlies the system of accountability necessary to achievement. “Accountability” may be defined as responsible to someone for something. Its meaning forms other words and ideas, depending on your “experience and understanding”— that vital repository behaviorists call the unconscious mind. But, whatever your sense of the word, a system of accountability must be in place before we can begin the process of achievement — before we can apply the principle of oversight.
Each of us is subject to authority — a decision (or pattern) that confirms the desire or habit that reveals it. If we believe in what we’re doing — building companies, citizens, or communities — we can readily identify the hierarchy around us. A belief in something, or someone, requires trust, that niggling urge in us that measures our cautionary response. We will cross through that amber light or we won’t, depending on the measure of trust in our ability to make it through unscathed. We will follow the mission and vision of the organization we have “chosen” to join, again, by the measure of trust we place in them or ourselves. This last decision has an interesting sidebar that also measures the character of our approach — either outside/inside or inside/outside. You can muddle over that or write to further the discussion.
One more ingredient in this recipe for achievement is agreement. We must have it before we can form expectations of an organization or another, indeed, ourselves. Without it we are asking of others more than we have the right to. So, there you have it. We must believe to achieve. We must trust to believe. We must form agreement to define the thing/person we will trust. And we must have that agreement in place before we can be held accountable, before we can exercise oversight of the things that define achievement.
I admit to borrowing the title of this column from a Sarah Palin speech to Alaska legislators after her installation as Governor. She told them: “All of you here need some adult supervision.”
In simple terms that’s what accountability is — the oversight given authority by the agreement between people and organizations and people and people, to achieve some common end. But in the march to achievement most efforts break down. Why? The question has been impetus to hundreds of books and articles by the studied in fields as different as psychology and nutrition. Simply, we all need supervision — or, as is said in publishing: “every writer needs an editor.”
Unfortunately, we are uncomfortable accepting it, and generally won’t from those we don’t trust. And, we are too often petulant in the belief that guidance means we are not doing our jobs. It often goes like this:
Don, how are you doing with the things we agreed are necessary to growing an understanding of the business in order to satisfy the goals of your department? You know, understanding what the market is doing, how the customer behaves under circumstances, and the technology that informs efficiency.
Don typically replies: Are you saying that I’m not doing my job?
Self-esteem aside, we are so often managing a fragile psyche that we fail to adhere to the principles above that most could recite with ease. Oversight is not only necessary, but is also an opportunity to form the bonds of trust that effective communications provide. The more you talk with others, the better you are at relating to them on a variety of levels. Coupled with a full-disclosure approach, we are better able to assuage hurt feelings, confront issues of conflict, learn the styles and personal goals of others, as well as the cultural underpinnings of unique organizations. Oversight is involvement, not “micro managing.” It is the very essence of relationship in an execution culture.
I’ve heard candidates Obama and Clinton scold Congress for poor decision-making, each making the point that our government is constitutionally bound to operate “for,” “by,” and “of” the people —oversight! They were right in suggesting that the organization they work in has a dysfunctional nature, and that the people of the U.S. are the landlords of this nation — indeed, the overseers of its “doings.”
The principles are clear; perhaps, even next steps. But your part in oversight is needed. Which will you do — accept or provide it? Little else works!