A little accountability goes a long way

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Staples
  • 36th Civil Engineer Squadron commander
The core values, integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do, provide a great lead into the importance of personal accountability. Without personal accountability, the core values are never internalized and become meaningless to the person staring back at you from the mirror every morning. What does it mean to have personal accountability? Unfortunately, it is often easier to quantify what is expected of other people vice a look inwards.
General George S. Patton asked of his leaders, "Always do everything you ask of those you command." Leadership starts with personal accountability, it is unrealistic to expect others to follow and put forth personal sacrifice without an example to follow. Double standards breed cynicism and bad morale, while leading by example builds unity, a sense of purpose, and dedication. Setting the example is easy: proper military bearing, picking up stray trash, not crossing the street to avoid a salute, stopping for retreat instead of executing the building dash, or showing up to work on time. However, the key lies in performing these actions consistently and to expect nothing less from those around you, even when you think nobody else is around.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, "He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else." To operate effectively, military units require an atmosphere where decision making can occur at the lowest levels and subordinates must be empowered to make decisions, even though some decisions might be wrong. More often than not, a bad decision made for the right reasons is better than one deferred or not made at all. Acknowledging that mistakes will be made, leaders place great trust in their subordinates' ability to make decisions or seek guidance when needed. The level of empowerment depends upon the amount of trust, faith and confidence earned by the individual. Accountability builds trust while excuses detract from authority. Subordinates and leaders alike must resist the urge to cover shortcomings with excuses, accept responsibility, seek ways to improve and move on.

The Japanese have a proverb: "The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour." The military is accountable to every taxpayer in the United States. Our military presence in countries around the globe is often the only glimpse of American society foreigners will see outside of Hollywood productions. The actions of the few can have large repercussions. On an individual level, it is important to realize that snapshots in time like a DUI, PT failure, or safety violation, can overshadow otherwise successful careers. It has never been more important to do the right thing, at all times.

Actor and comedian George Burns put it simply, "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible." Resist the temptation of the mob, be a wingman, and make the tough choice to speak out. DoD's ability to self-police directly contributes to the military having the highest confidence rating of any other national institution since 1998. Of 1,020 people surveyed in 2011, 78 percent responded they had high esteem for the US military. By comparison, organized religion was at 48 percent, the U.S. Supreme Court at 37 percent, television news at 27 percent and Congress was at 12 percent.

Children are fond of saying, "It's not my fault," "They made me do it" or "I forgot." As adults, those responses too often turn into, "It's not my job," "I wasn't told," or "It couldn't be helped."

There is a lot to be said for a little personal accountability and doing the right thing. As an organization, we owe it to ourselves and our country to continually question past processes, spur innovation and swim upstream when needed.