A Lesson in Accountability From a Fallen Hero

Be the person who follows through.
Photo via Craig Toron

Just a few days before the Petraeus scandal blew up, I bookmarked this story from the New York Times. It’s your basic puff piece — the kind that frequently follows those who inhabit that rarified “hero zone” in popular culture.

Heroes have taken quite a beating lately, from Lance Armstrong to Elmo, and I could go into a long spiel about the dangers of putting strangers up on a pedestal and how we should instead look to the everyday heroes among us for inspiration. But that wouldn’t be terribly original.

Instead,  I’m going to talk about what originally caught my eye in this story. Here’s the money quote for me:

“I’ve never seen anyone with his drive — ever,” said Michael J. Morell, the agency’s deputy director. “He remembers what he asks for. Three weeks later he’ll say at a morning meeting: ‘Whatever happened to that? Is that done yet?’ ”

How sad that we’ve come to a point in our culture where simple accountability stands out as a mark of superior drive. A boss who actually remembers what he asks for! Imagine.

We’ve all had the kind of boss who issues pronouncements at meetings like, “We should get on that” and “Let’s look into that.” Etc. And everyone nods along, fully understanding that these are just empty requests that will soon be forgotten.

Fortunately, I’ve also had the kind of boss who remembers. Everything. And the first time I got caught answerless to the surprising follow up — “Whatever happened to that?” — was the last time. Because there were real consequences. Good old fashioned castigation and public shaming go a long way toward enforcing behavior change.

So I became the kind of person who follows up. Who does what he says he’s going to do, on time and without being nagged. (At least in business.)

And I constantly get small praises from people for following up quickly and completely on requests, as if I’m the first person all month who’s actually responded to them in a timely manner. Which I can believe, based on my own outbox of unanswered client requests, missed deadlines and other things.

I really believe that this is one of the easiest ways to stand out in business. Be the person who actually follows through, who meets deadlines, who answers questions. Sad to say, accountability will set you apart in this world.

It’s perhaps ironic to say in a post that began with David Petraeus, but it’s a mark of integrity.

2 thoughts on “A Lesson in Accountability From a Fallen Hero

  1. Rob – I believe that the character traits that made this man a good general and a good leader are the exact character flaws that made him a terrible partner and created the current clown show we are unfortunately being subjected to.

  2. Good point, Mark. I’ve always believed that a person’s greatest strengths can also be his greatest weakness. Like a person who’s emotional can connect with people well and inspire others and they can also get into a lot of trouble when they’re unable to control it.

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