Category Archives: Accountability

Doing What You’re Told

I’ve been working since the age of 12 when I became a busboy at an Italian restaurant in my hometown.  I still remember my dad dropping me off on my first night.  As I got out of the car, the last thing he said to me was a rather emphatic “Do what you’re told” (as though I’d had a history of not doing that with him).

Suddenly, at the ripe old age of 12, I was working for the man (even though the boss’s name was Betty).  My dad’s advice served me well, not only for that job, but for other jobs through college.

But once I got my first career job, it wasn’t such good advice.  Certainly doing what I was told would have been OK, but I wouldn’t have gotten far letting others think for me.  To be successful, you need to make decisions and decide for yourself what needs to be done.

One of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies is A Bug’s Life.  In this movie, one of the worker ants, Flik persistently thinks up new ideas and inventions and essentially goes against the ant colony’s accepted norms of following procedure and doing what they are told.  Meanwhile, the colony’s heir apparent, Princess Atta, makes all of her decisions based on what the colony would think of her.  She would ask Flik, “Why can’t you just be like everyone else?”

Are you a rule follower, going through the motions of mediocre obedience?  At some point you need to ask yourself, have I been hired to think or to do.

If you only do what you’re told, you are easily replaceable. What does your employer value most from you, taking direction, or solving problems?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.


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Accountability vs. Blame

Everyone makes a mistake on occasion.  I’ve seen the smartest and most meticulous people write down the wrong time or date for a meeting.  It happens.  And as long as it’s not habitual, most people tolerate small mistakes.

Then there are major screw ups.  Perhaps someone didn’t anticipate a key risk on a project or realized during step 9 that step 3 in a process was skipped, causing major rework and embarrassment with the client.

The real issue is how organizations deal with mistakes of this nature.  Many organizations talk about not focusing on blame.  Certainly, when a major faux pas is made, the first thing to focus on is how to make amends. 

Once corrective actions begin, you start to hear people saying things like “We have to determine who is responsible and hold them accountable.”  To me, that sounds a lot like “We need a scapegoat to shoulder the blame.”

I’m all for holding people accountable.  But people have different opinions of what that means.  Some see it as identifying someone to punish while others see it as a teaching moment.  Some see punishment as a form of teaching, assuming that if an employee knows they’ll face a severe punishment for messing up, they will be extra careful.

This negative reinforcement may make employees cautious, which can be good.  But it may make them too cautious, causing them to avoid any type of risk that could help them – and the organization – excel.

Performance evaluations tend to start someone with the expectation of perfection, and then ding them down to their realistic level after identifying everything they did wrong.  This can create a negative environment, where people either cover up errors or begin passing blame on other people as soon as things go south.  In this type of environment, people learn that the sooner you can pin the blame on a co-worker, the quicker you can save your own ass.

There are positive environments that have tolerance for errors, some that even encourage people to take risks and make errors in the interest of learning.  This creates an environment of honesty and accountability.  As soon as someone realizes something is wrong, they feel confident going into the boss’s office and saying “I made a mistake that could cost us (time, money, credibility, all of the above)”. 

A good leader will both work with an employee to help figure out how to correct an error, and hold them accountable in a positive way.  They will help them identify lessons learned – what they could have done differently to avoid this happening again?

Organizations like this tend to be more transparent with their employees and with their customers, creating an environment of trust within the organization and with everyone that interacts with them.

How does your organization hold people accountable?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting ( He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Accountability, Business, Communication, Consulting, Credibility, Mentoring, Morale