“Leaders lead”, as the old saying goes. This is a simplistic view of what leaders actually do; it does not take into account the fact that not everything a leader does is worth following. So let’s revise this saying to be more specific: “Leaders lead by modeling effective behavior.”
Influential leaders are role models of accountability. Their appropriate behavior comes form a conscious choice to live by their conviction, to change harmful mental models, and to manage their emotions. In health care this choice extends to the way they view their enormous responsibility for other people – from the internal senior management team to governing board to employees to physicians and other clinical providers to the patient population to the community at large. Accountability is a practical instrument that influential leaders use to keep themselves and those around them honest, focused and productive. Influential leaders know that an organization devoid of accountability is nothing but a collection of people who shift blame, feel victimized, procrastinate, and disguise their incompetence.
One way leaders can role-model accountability is transparency – to admit their own mistakes and vulnerabilities in the face of various responsibilities. For example, the leader can share a story in which he “dropped the ball” on an important project. He can explain the steps he took to recover from this event. The story can then be turned into a teaching moment that may inspire others to change their approach to avoid the negative outcome experienced by the storyteller. The point of this exercise, which is called power of story, is to show that a lack of accountability has the power to weaken even a strong performer and thus needs to be managed with vigilance.
Another way leaders can role-model accountability is to always, in any challenging situation or conflict, ask “how did I contribute to this problem?” This simple question must be followed by an actual evaluation of the leader’s role, because just posing the question is as good as screaming, “I didn’t do it!” This show of genuine concern indicates to others that the leader sees herself as accountable not only for the problem but also for the solution. Without the use of accountability and feedback you will be leading in the dark.