Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Accountability: A Missing Ingredient?

Recently a friend spoke to some younger business people about accountability. One individual asked how he would rank accountability, compared with other professional traits and skills.

The question was asked because accountability apparently is alien to many emerging leaders. Certainly nothing they have studied in college or business school.

With this vacuum of personal and professional accountability, the surge of scandals in the workplace is hardly surprising: Serious ethical transgressions performed without remorse; top executives skimming exorbitant bonuses while their companies suffer unprecedented losses; headline-making moral failures. When no one holds you accountable, having permission to ask hard questions, it’s easy, as the Bible puts it, to “do what is right in your own eyes.”

This applies to workplace responsibilities, home life, even leisure activities and financial decisions. As poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We think our ethical and moral decisions are independent, of no consequence to others. But in fact, their effect is profound – good or bad – on our families, friends, coworkers and companies.

In reality, we can only be as accountable as we’re willing to be. Some people are readily accountable in some respects, but unwilling to give access to other areas they don’t want to have scrutinized. So we continue to see leaders tumble into cataclysmic ethical and moral failures, even while appearing open and honest. That can happen when they reveal only what they were willing to have examined and questioned.

James 5:16 exhorts us to “confess your faults to each other and pray for each other.” It’s not a matter of having people “check up” on us, but rather communicating our willingness to be totally vulnerable - to safeguard our integrity and, ultimately, our standing and effectiveness as ambassadors for God.

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