To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful. – Edward R. Murrow
We have a 13 year old. He is a truly wonderful person. He is bright and caring and his smile brings out a similar response from everyone. There is one characteristic though that makes me a bit crazy. Every time he does something that crosses the boundaries of appropriate behavior, his response is, “Sorry”. In fact, he says this so often that it doesn’t really mean anything. I laugh now and say, “I think you are only sorry that I found out of this behavior” and he smiles.
This was brought to mind this morning as I was listening to a podcast of the radio program This American Life titled, “Mistakes were made”. I realized a growing concern for the loss of accountability. So much media attention in the U.S. is focused on the rich or famous or powerful. They become role models for our children and the object of what we desire to be or perhaps have.
When a mistake is made, who is really responsible? I listen to President Bush and he on occasion say, “Mistake were made in Iraq”. Yet I can’t recall any elaboration about what this means. So does he feel responsible? I hear corporate leaders say the words, “I am responsible” for some mistake that was made and then we later discover they received a large bonus. In fact, on this week’s broadcast of our radio program Business Matters, we talk with Joe Bobreski about a scandal at the Washington DC Municipal Water waste treatment plant in which thousands of Washingtonians were at risk from Chlorine poisoning. This wasn’t just his allegation, it was borne out in the legal process. So what was the consequence of this situation for the management of that organization, they got pay raises and bonuses.
Another guest on our show, Professor Tamar Frankel, who wrote the book, “Trust and Honesty: America’s Business Culture at a Crossroad” said that we have become so accustomed to dishonesty and lack of accountability in our leaders that we accept it as “just the way it is”. She is hopeful that our young people, like those she teaches, can bring about a change. I am not so sure.
I believe that accountability is a quality that is taught by example. We are inspired to be accountable because we see someone take full responsibility for their actions and we know it is the right thing. Who is going to set that example? I invite you to. This is a constant challenge in my life and each time I absolutely own my actions and their consequence, I experience a sense of peace even if I am also feeling uncomfortable. More importantly, I know this is required for world that I want for my children and grandchildren.
Speak up when you see others who are not accountable. When you know you have erred, own it without hesitation, you will be amazed at the results.