Michael Korda knows a lot about successful leadership. The British-born author has written many bestsellers that focus on strong leaders, including biographies of Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. He’s also an acknowledged publishing innovator; as the former editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster, he worked with presidents (Carter, Reagan, and Nixon), famous political figures (Henry Kissinger, Charles de Gaulle), and many individuals who have shaped the arts (including Tennessee Williams and Laurence Olivier). So, it’s worth paying attention when Michael Korda shares his insights on what makes leaders successful.
Korda says this: “Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility…. In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility[HW1] .”
The willingness to acknowledge responsibility, and to become accountable, is a rare trait. It’s also precisely what the newest generations of workers are looking for in their leaders. The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey reveals that young workers (born between 1983 and 2003) are embracing personal responsibility and urging accountability from companies and employers[HW2] .
When I talk with leaders about accountability, I’m surprised by how often this leads to a discussion centered on systems and processes, on formalized reporting and strictly tabulated opportunities for feedback and progress tracking. These executives are focusing more on the accounting and less on their ability to effect significant change in the organizations they lead.
I believe that we should shift the lens through which we understand and talk about accountability. Accountability is a habit that leaders need to recognize and then begin to practice in order to model it for their employees. This involves a determination to take ownership of all details of their organization’s operations, of accepting responsibility for the impact their business will have on its employees, its customers, and its community.
I share eight of these habits of accountability in my book Civility Rules! This is by no means a comprehensive list; it’s simply a place where you can start to practice, in a public way, actions that demonstrate personal responsibility:
1. Keep your commitments to others.
2. Respect other people’s time.
3. Train yourself not to take anything personally.
4. Catch yourself when you start to blame others.
5. Refuse to complain.
6. Find something joyful to focus on; express gratitude.
7. Work on self-love.
8. Apologize and own your mistakes, and then work to learn from them.
Leaders who demonstrate that their word has value will earn the trust of those around them. Leaders who show their respect for others—by expressing gratitude, by acknowledging and valuing other people’s time—will discover that respect can be contagious. Leaders who concentrate on productive thinking and are growth oriented—who focus less on identifying scapegoats and placing blame and more on the opportunities for learning from setbacks—will find that humility and empathy can be strategic leadership skills that inspire loyalty and productivity.
As these habits demonstrate, this is a process that begins with personal responsibility. But great leaders make the strategic shift from responsibility to accountability. They don’t simply do what’s required of them as an executive. They take ownership of the results. When a problem appears, their first thought isn’t “Who’s at fault?” Instead, it’s “What do we need to change?”
The Deloitte survey of Millennial and Gen Z workers reveals that your youngest workers and future customers expect more from their leaders. They believe that individuals can take action to effect positive change. As leaders, our job is to prove them right.