Tag Archive for leadership development

The Necessity of Accountability



Depending on your experiences and philosophical perspective, that word can conjure a wide variety of feelings, many of which seem similar to that feeling you got in the pit of your stomach when your mom told you to go wait in your room for your dad to get home. However, most of us would likely agree that accountability, at least in some vague, general sense, is a necessary component of healthy teams and organizations.

But here’s the thing. Accountability, rightly understood, is a shared thing between two or more people. It’s not a one-way street. In other words, it is two or more folks holding each other accountable to uphold shared values and/or performance expectations. That sort of accountability can have an amazing and positive impact on a team because it builds trust, promotes healthy conflict, and so on.

Unfortunately, though, accountability is not always thought of in this way. This is an issue that plagues many organizations, often the higher you go on the org chart. Leadership positions, up to and certainly including the CEO, need to have real accountability in place. When leaders don’t have real accountability, they are able to essentially do whatever they’d like. And that can ugly in a hurry.

Imagine a boss who has limited real accountability, and on top of that has a narcissistic personality, is emotionally abusive, and possesses a nearly non-existent moral compass. That boss will likely terrorize those who work for him or her, because what’s to stop him or her? It’s a recipe for disaster.

How do you know there might be a lack of real accountability? Ask yourself the following questions.

What happens when someone raises concerns about a manager, executive, or CEO? Do they end up being victimized as a result of speaking up? 

Are legitimate and concrete corrective actions put in place for managers up to and including the CEO, or are issues routinely swept under the rug and/or rationalized away?

When managers up to and including the CEO see regular turnover on their teams, are the reasons for that turnover really explored? Or are leaders able to simply shrug and chalk it up to what they might call “bad” employees?

Do managers up to and including the CEO insist on accountability for everyone, but then avoid it at all costs themselves? 

Are managers up to and including the CEO able to routinely talk their way out of any potential issues? 

When’s the last time managers up to and including the CEO took full and complete responsibility for things going wrong on their teams? Or is it typically an exercise in deflection and rationalization?

A lack of real accountability usually has a destructive impact on teams and organizations, and the longer bad bosses are allowed to function without real accountability, the longer the organization will suffer the consequences.

Leaders Serve First


The underlying philosophy of servant leadership is important to grasp.

Though it may at first glance seem to be an issue of semantics, the distinction between a leader who serves and a servant who leads is a fundamental one. What separates servant-leadership from other discussions of leadership is that it takes the approach of leadership not being the end-all, but instead a vehicle for the service of others. As Robert Greenleaf pointed out, “The servant-leader is servant first….It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

In other words, for the servant-leader, leadership is a means to an end rather than being an end to itself.

On the other hand, it could be that leaders who serve – in contrast with servant-leaders—view service as an essential and foundational element or component of leadership. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but it is certainly a different mindset from the one mentioned above in that it limits service to a being just a piece of leadership rather than the heart of it. They may consider service an expectation of leadership, but not necessarily as the source or conceptual framework for leadership.

Perhaps it might be helpful to think of it this way. For leaders who happen to serve, service is part of how they lead, but not necessarily why they lead. Service is more the how of leadership than they why. That’s why so many advocates of servant-leadership argue that it should be thought of as “a way of being in the world,” as a professor of mine once said. When conceptualized this way, it becomes more akin to a worldview than simply a grouping of management tips.

This distinction – between a leader who serves and a servant-leader – has been an important point on which I’ve had to reflect. The notion that one is to be a servant first, then a leader, is one that looms increasingly large in my mind. The challenge, it seems, is at least partly one of motivation and mindset.

I’ve personally had to wrestle with the idea of both clarity and purity of my motivation. It seems that too easily ego subtly sneaks in and subverts service as a motivating factor. Masquerading as a desire to serve, ego may at times produce a service that is more rooted in a need for public affirmation and admiration than a selfless desire to seek the good of others over the good of self.

As with many things of this nature, self-awareness is a critical but difficult necessity. An impediment to this seems to be a lack of concerted and proactive effort to set aside significant time periods during which the primary focus is personal reflection, perhaps through contemplative practices.

Studying this over the past several months has rattled me to the core and begun a fundamental shift in the way I think about leadership and service, and has set me on a different trajectory both personally and professionally. It’s been an often-painful transition, but one that seems to have placed me on the path toward a more appropriate style of human leadership wherein serving others through leading well becomes a way of being in the world.

(A version of this article was first posted on the CU Water Cooler site.)

8 Characteristics of a Machiavellian Leader


You might work for one. You might be one yourself. You might not typically operate this way, but every once in a while you find yourself slipping into what almost feels to you like an alter-ego.

When things are going well, it’s all photo-op smiles, hearty handshakes,

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Machiavellianism is “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or general conduct,” it of course getting its derivation from the Italian diplomat, writer and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. In modern psychological parlance, it refers to a duplicitous interpersonal style couple with a pragmatic and narcissistic moral framework.

Some have incorrectly assumed that given their ability to manipulate the crap out of just about anybody, Machiavellian leaders have a relatively high level of intelligence. In fact, many Machiavellian leaders themselves believe this. Not only does research show this isn’t the case at all in regards to IQ, it also shows that folks with more Machiavellian tendencies seem to have lower levels of EQ (emotional intelligence) as well.

Short version of the above: These guys aren’t as smart as they think they are, and probably aren’t as smart as you think they are. Also, they may suck at certain people skills.

Sounds like some managers or executives we all know and see every day, right? Maybe even in the mirror? Here are some of the tell-tale signs, in no particular order, that a leader might have a little more Machiavelli in him or her than he or she would like…

1. Duplicity

We can go straight Webster’s here. Duplicity is a contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action; especially, the belying of one’s true intentions by deceptive words or action. Sound familiar?

2. Cunning

This leader is crafty. They’re an artist and their finished masterpiece is the result of the crafty use of wiliness and trickery.

3. Narcissism

Excessive and exaggerated feelings of self-importance, though these feelings often masquerade as something more noble. Don’t be fooled. Self-interest is the most often and valid impetus of most conscious action for the narcissist.

4. The ends justify the means.


5. It’s all part of the game.

The workplace, their career, all the way down to every interaction, is all part of the game for Machiavellian leaders. It’s all part of the master plan to either gain or maintain power or influence.

6. Control and Manipulation.

They know just the buttons to push and have no problems pushing them. You’re not doing what they want? Don’t worry. You will be soon and you won’t even know how it happened. Or you will and you’ll feel like a little bit of your soul died on the inside. Before long you realize that your skills, abilities, and so on are really just there for…well…them.

7. They’d love to be loved, but not at the expense of not being feared…er…”respected.”

You’ve seen The Godfather, right?

8. They don’t usually reveal the entire and/or real reason they’re doing something unless it’s somehow advantageous to them.

You always feel like you’re missing part of the picture. And you usually are.


Did I miss any? What would you add to the list? How many of those behaviors do you catch yourself doing?