Friday, December 28, 2007

Is accountability a real leadership objective?

Accountability is the notion that we report to someone who judges. This of course begs the question of who might be authorized to judge. In democracies this weight often falls to "representatives." Judging at least from U.S. opinion polls about Congress, few seem to hold that term in much esteem these days, and perhaps with some cause. Representatives and their ancillary hollow institutions classified as "the press" seem to be in general retreat. Both seem to suffer all to often from their own ethical crises to be much in the way of shepherds and tenders.

Then there is accountability to "the public." This notion of the a-word seems to verge on an ideal of transparency. But few would equate the two outright I fear. Transparency is more about method. Accountability seems to be more about power. No one speaks of transparent power. Moreover, no one (at all) speaks of method when addressing accountability.

You might gather that I don't much care for the idea of accountability and that bias may well shine through to any of my related writings. It's not that I dislike reporting or hold it in disdain. On the contrary, I have generally found that having well-delineated superiors tends to reduce the risk of a job considerably. Only a fool or an over-confident person would want to face fire when cover is readily available. In this age of sniping and fault-finding, it truly takes a naive sort to prefer riding alone. Though hierarchy's time seems to be quickly passing as well.

The reason I dislike accountability is because I think it obviates the moral imperative of leading. It pushes leadership toward agendas and identity politics...exactly where I think it is naturally moving away from at a furious clip. It takes leadership out of the hands of the leader's mind and conscience and puts it in the hands of an unlikely-to-act abstraction. Boards matter and transparency is crucial, but leadership is found in the mind of a stressed decision maker.

One is accountable only to personal scruples ultimately. Whatever eschatological beliefs one holds, those mores seem rarely powerful enough to dissuade the grossest perversions of any ideal. I don't mind that people fall back on faiths. That seems natural enough...just the sort of cover I mentioned above as making a lot of sense. We must find leaders amongst those who suffer over action. Indecisiveness is a well-overplayed red herring. Inaction...that's a threat. Indecisiveness, no.

What I do mind above all is the denuding of a sense of responsibility by invoking cover from above of whatever sort. "Executive privilege" is just such an abomination overplayed probably 99 times out of 100. Those who lay their decisions at the hands of a "higher power" lie to us and themselves. No god who would esteem free will would then advise an actor in some puny decision with only mortal stakes.

In the concept of leadership as enabling the emphasis returns again and again to making the unclear decision with a heavy heart. Leaders must choose what to enable. Even the most learner-centric teacher deploys a constant moral rudder. That rudder is never sure because moral compasses are notoriously faulty. That is, "true north" found with a so-called moral compass is about as reliable as depoliticized funding. I argue again and again that without pushing an agenda, leadership can only occur in areas of moral cloudiness. The leader must be near a tipping point to make an honest decision or else no decision is made at all beyond merely accepting responsibility. And that is where the whole fault of accountability, as I see it, begins again. Accepting responsibility is a phrase rarely backed by currency.