• 09.20.10

No Excuses Leadership

It is not often that we look to the Detroit Lions for insights into leadership. But one such moment occurred after the Lions lost to the Chicago Bears when referees negated a potentially winning touchdown in the closing moments of the game. Replays showed that the catch was made but not in accordance with NFL rules.

Detroit Lions

According to post-game reporting by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz called his team together in the locker room and said, “If anyone talks to the media and blames this loss on the catch, it’s really a coward’s way out. We had a chance to put the game away and we didn’t.”


For a team that is struggling to establish itself after nearly a decade of losing seasons, Schwartz was, in the words of local sports talk host, Scott Anderson, trying to establish a culture of accountability. Don’t blame the refs; be responsible for your own actions. No team, no player can win without holding himself accountable for results.

Schwartz’s lesson should resonate with any leader working in tough times with shrinking resources and in challenging market conditions. The easy thing to do is blame the economy; the right thing to do control what you can control. Accountability starts with the leader and extends to everyone on the team one person at a time. Here are some suggestions for instilling when things go awry.

Be real. Acknowledge the situation, including the bad breaks. You want to give people an opportunity to explain themselves and maybe even vent. This is acceptable for the moment, but a leader cannot dwell on what might have been; she must focus on what can happen next. It is okay to discuss factors that may have hindered performance, but to blame them for failure may not always be accurate. You cannot scapegoat yourself to success. You need to own results good and bad.

Right the ship. Employees need to know what the goal is and more importantly the role they play in achieving it. The fulfillment of that goal may likely depend upon how employees interact with one another. Leaders owe it to their followers to insist on standards of cooperation, collaboration and comportment. That is, the way we do things (behaving with integrity) says as much about us as what we achieve (our goals).

Reinforce standards. Expectations are one thing; fulfillment is another. Leaders play key role in translating words into actions. Not only do they execute the strategic imperatives they hold themselves accountable for results. For example, if a team falls short of a goal, perhaps there will be no bonus. And if the boss also forfeits a bonus then employee knows that he or she is holding himself accountable.

Accountability is not a nice to have; it’s a must have for leaders. Employees are looking to their managers to do the right thing and if they sense that the manager is less than competent, or less than truthful, or one who seeks to stir the pot rather than stimulate the work, they lose faith in that individual. Accountability the sum of actions, not words. You do what you say you will do or else. Plain and simple!

Cultures that reinforce accountability send a powerful message that every employee has a responsibility to perform. External factors cannot be the sole excuse for underperforming. Individual accountability matters.