The buck stops here

How most meetings go when someone needs to be held accountable.

Being out on the road is refreshing for many, many reasons—fresh air, new adventures every day, meeting people. The list goes on. But I also love the accountability—the feeling of being responsible for the decisions and successes and failures on the road. It’s a whole different vibe than many workplaces where accountability becomes a game of hot potato.  

Too often workplaces spend a lot of time and energy assigning blame instead of analyzing whatever the issue was and moving on. This is far from a novel thought or observation. Having now been in senior management positions, I also want to implore my fellow C-suite folks to get their heads out of their asses and be accountable. It’s not hard. If a mistake or gaffe or what-have-you comes out of your department or division, take the blame. Yes, it might have been your next-in-command; it might have been the intern; you may not know who did it, but know it wasn’t you. Doesn’t matter. Say it is your fault. Analyze the issue. Fix it. Move on. 

There’s a lot of business reasons to do this—from looking more professional to gaining trust amongst your colleagues to advancing agendas toward their measurable goals (because your meetings should be about goals and not blame, right?). But the main reason—the best reason to be accountable is that it is what a decent human being in a leadership role does. It’s a low bar to not be shitty, but across my time in management I’ve watched any number of VPs, managers, directors, and CEOs reach new limbo records as they wallow in their shittiness and have meetings that look like the climatic scene of Reservoir Dogs. 

Here’s a little guide I put together to keep everyone in line:

But the [intern/assistant/scapegoat] was the one who did it!

Okay. Doesn’t matter. If you’re in charge of a department, a mistake is ultimately your responsibility.

But they did XYZ without my knowledge!

Doesn’t matter. Guess you better check in with your employees and ask questions. Pro tip: If you say, “The intern did it” in a meeting, your colleagues won’t absolve you; they will just think you’re a bad manager. 

So I can’t reprimand my employees?

First, blaming them when they are not in the room isn’t a reprimand; it’s an excuse. Secondly, if you reprimand them in front of others or turn to them in a meeting and try to hold them accountable in front of others, you’re the asshole. That’s less reprimand and more public embarrassment. If whatever lapse happened because of lack of communication, get ready for more lapses because that employee will never trust you again and will avoid any sort of open conversation in the future. 

So what’s the magic way to reprimand an employee then?

In private. If it’s serious or if it’s become a repeated issue, document it and don’t use loaded verbiage (“error” vs. “screw up”). Talk through it. Chances are your employee doesn’t relish the idea of screwing up. So figure out the root cause of the issue and work together to solve it. 

Isn’t that a little touchy-feely? Aren’t you just coddling them?

Talking and understanding is not coddling. Open communication is not somehow weak. I don’t know where along the line certain camps decided that treating employees as human was part of a liberal agenda, but the truth—and this bears out with the current labor shortage—businesses need their workers. As for coddling—ha! Do you know how many managers immediately become infuriated when a subordinate refuses to grovel? Or how many CEOs bristle when one of their workers decides to speak truth to power? Workers are constantly demeaned by customers, by coworkers, by their managers. What I am saying is, as a manager/supervisor, you don’t have to be an asshole to get things done. In fact, and most shockingly, if you’re approachable and shoulder your responsibility as a leader, you’ll make progress and retain good employees. 

In the meantime, we will be on the road. Our success is ours and our failures are also ours. What issues we have, we will talk through. Because that’s what people who care about relationships do. 

2 thoughts on “The buck stops here

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