Personal accountability is the single most important driver of leadership. It is what sets apart great leaders from talented managers, says Apurva Purohit
When we began our journey of understanding the art of leadership viewed from the battlefield so to speak, we saw how much we could adapt from a role that many of us have already been playing for several years now, that of child readers. As parents, we dole out discipline and love in equal measure to help our children become better individuals and while doing so we also teach them to deal with the big, bad world with courage and fortitude. These are valuable leadership lessons to manage teams too. We learnt of the power that comes with listening to those around us, and how implementation can be facilitated and goals achieved by a truly clear mind that has its priorities set correctly. We discussed the importance of being curious and asking questions, of making hard choices and of persevering through the trying times that all of us have faced sometime or the other in our lives. We made note of some of the common biases that leaders fall for-a pro-strategy bias and a negative skew against implementation, and the dangers of subjective measurement metrics. Lastly, we spoke of clearly defining and sustaining values, promoting genuine trust amongst teams, unfailingly keeping commitments and using all these as building blocks to create empowering and engaging cultures.
But, the single most important driver of leadership in my opinion is personal accountability, and I say this loudly because I have seen too many talented managers unable to evolve to great leaders, only because this particular characteristic was missing in their make-up.
When a child is very young, and while playing, loses her ball, she comes to her mother and happily says, ‘Mama, the ball is lost.’ Note the use of words. The child believes that the ball lost itself all on its own. And consequently it doesn’t upset her. She believes her mother will take care of the situation and indeed the doting parent rushes out to the play area, scrambling around for the lost ball. However, when this same child grows up a little bit and loses the same ball, this time she returns crying, ‘Mama, I lost the ball.’ It’s a complete turnaround of both syntax and associated emotion. This time, not only does the child feel terrible about losing the ball, but also for the first time in her life admits that it was her fault that the ball got lost. Several studies on developmental psychology indicate that this is the point in the child’s growth (usually around the age of six) when the transition to adulthood truly begins. Because that’s the behaviour that adults are expected to demonstrate, to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences thereof! To whit-personal accountability. ‘I lost the ball.’ The ball didn’t lose itself of its own volition. Neither did some malignant universal force direct its disappearance. It was me and only me.
The reason I am highlighting this issue of accountability so vigorously is that most people struggle to accept onus, especially in negative situations. Despite being grown up, they morph back into that preschooler who happily says the ball disappeared through no fault of hers. This fundamental attribution error makes us prone to patting ourselves on our backs when things go right, but also just as swiftly blaming the external situation around us when things go wrong. Sales targets not met? Must be the bad economic conditions. Marriage failing? It was because our kundalis didn’t match. Child turning out to be a brat? Surely it’s all the company he’s been keeping at school. And before we know it, we start blaming everything but ourselves for the shortcomings and disappointments that our lives are inevitably littered with. For it is the easier route to take, and certainly far more preferable than seeing our own errors reflected in the mirror of our benighted circumstances.
I see this happen all the time. Inevitably people outsource their lives to their circumstances or to other people around them by refusing to take culpability for anything that happens to them. Essentially admitting that not they, but someone else is responsible for their successes and failures.
Apurva Purohit is the author of Lady, You’re the Boss