Merge's Blog

Why accountability matters: a leadership lesson from a fortune cookie

Last year, I did an entire video series focusing entirely on effective and powerful employee motivators; strategy #19 was to delegate responsibility, authority AND accountability.  I was reminded of this important leadership tenet a few evenings ago in the most unexpected spot … following dinner at a Chinese restaurant!

Leadership wisdom from a fortune cookie

accountabilityI admit it … I love cracking open a fortune cookie!  It’s the excitement of the unknown … what great wisdom is about to be imparted in the palm of my hand?  And the other night, after a delicious bowl of noodles and spicy green beans, the opportunity arose once again!  I held the ends of the crisp cookie between each hand, and pulled it apart with great anticipation.  The sage insight that fell out on to the table:

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly Plato-worthy!  But nevertheless, it still caught my attention … because it actually contains a great leadership message.

As managers and supervisors, we regularly assign work to our staff.  And usually, most of it is routine, so our staff are fully aware that the tasks fall within their spans of responsibility and therefore they are accountable for completion.  But every so often, something unexpected or atypical comes up that needs to be addressed.  Perhaps there is an unusual request of your area from an external or internal client.  Or a new initiative is being considered that requires some preliminary investigation by your team.  Or another department is pondering a process that will somehow impact your unit.  No matter what the situation, it suddenly falls to your team to step in and take on this task or project, run with it, and carry it over the finish line.  But because it is uncommon, it doesn’t simply or neatly fall within anyone’s existing scope of work.

Accountability matters!

It is in exactly these circumstances that this fortune cookie insight offers great wisdom.  What this little slip of paper is really saying is that in such situations, it is critical to identify a single individual or “point person” to take charge of the work.  You have to assign responsibility for the task or project (and the authority needed to get things done) to an individual “snowflake”; otherwise you run the risk of confusing who has accountability to produce results.  Sure, it may make sense to have a discussion about the issue or situation with your entire team, but ultimately, the responsibility and associated authority must be given to a single person.  If you leave the delegation of responsibility ambiguous or unclear, no snowflake will take ownership and accountability, and when the inevitable avalanche happens, all that will result is mayhem and destruction.

Well?  I would love to hear about your experiences.  Have you seen such a situation occur in your workplace?  An avalanche, zero accountability, and lots of snowflakes all either looking bewildered or pointing fingers at one another? Please tell us below.

2 thoughts on “Why accountability matters: a leadership lesson from a fortune cookie

  1. Great phrase, Merge. This happens often. A special project arises, it represents extra work and takes a person or group out of their comfort zone. The deadline approaches and nothing is done. Leadership is about taking responsibility and stepping up to get things done. Those that take initiative get ahead in their careers.

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