Wednesday, April 5, 2017


As a young person growing up in the Midwest, my mother would frequently remind me that "my sins would find me out".  My mother had a strong sense of right and wrong.  She also instilled in me that I should listen to those in authority in my life.  Her message was for those times when I might consider breaking a rule or ignoring those in authority in my life.  Ultimately, my mother instilled in me a sense of accountability.

As a community college president accountability is a concept that is ever present. Accountability is also ever present for the community college as an institution as well.  In an article, "The Changing Face of Accountability" published in 2000 in the Journal of Higher Education, the author referenced that during the past decade the nature of the relationship between higher education and government had changed.  In short, government is calling for more accountability for higher education. Fast forward over fifteen years later to today and the relationship of the government to higher education is still one of skeptism over the self-regulating, peer-review of accreditation. Consequently, the calls for higher education accountability continue and the debates rage over how to achieve that accountability.  Yet the accountability that I'm speaking of for me as an individual is still dependent upon self-regulation.  While I'm accountable to a governing board, self-regulation is the best way to ensure I remain true to my principle of accountability.

My second expectation for executive leaders is "to be accountable and make accountable".  While I've introduced this reflection based upon the idea of being accountable, the other side of that coin is the "make accountable".  Holding individuals within an organization accountable is not as easy as it might seem.

I begin by making sure that I articulate my expectations.  Those expectations include:

1.  Think at a level above the level you manage
2.  Be accountable and make accountable
3. Solve problems at the lowest level possible
4. Know and follow policy and administrative rules
5. Be competent with data
6. Communicate first, factual, frequently
7. Be professional and encourage professionalism
8. Be visible
9. Be a cheerleader

Beyond these broad expectations I try to be clear about more concrete expectations such as deadlines.  By knowing my expectations up front, leaders know how to proceed day to day in order to accomplish the goals of the organization and how to operate within the framework in which I want them to conduct business.  Creating accountability and holding others accountable creates transparency and predictability.  Just like sports have rules for playing the game, so must executive leaders know the rules under which I will engage with them and they should engage their employees.  

The above expectation number four, "Know and follow policy and administrative rules" also provides a context for making others accountable.  While this expectation will be discussed in greater length in a future post, it is still a framework in which to hold employees accountable.  

Accountability also comes when an organization has a clear strategic plan that is not only strategic, by measurable, realistic, and time bound.  Measuring productivity and benchmarking against goals and peers also produces accountability through establishing clear expectations.  

Ultimately, as a leader I must model accountability to ensure other leaders within the institution see accountability, are made accountable, and in turn make others accountable. Beyond modeling one must articulate expectations, have a clear vision that is measurable, and know the rules of engagement to ensure accountability throughout the organization.  


  1. American society seems to lack accountability of all those but the lowest among us. Welfare recipients are drug tested, but not politicians. Poor teenage boys go to jail for sleeping with fifteen year olds, but not priests. Corporations are allowed the ability to escape the weight of their debt by declaring bankruptcy, but student loan borrowers are not. Where would our world be if freshly-graduated college students could choose non-profit work instead of the big paycheck necessary to pay off those loans? Where would we be if the poorest among us could find enough resources to leave that all-consuming poverty behind them? But instead we afford the ones in charge leeway, allowing them to crush those beneath them with the weight of their arrogance, their incompetence, their misinformed pursuits. We squander the talent that lies beneath, ignoring their contributions, denying their insights, and wasting their days and minutes. This talent moves on, pressing forward into better paths and worlds, leaving the fools at the top without the necessary gifts that would have made their endeavors successful.

    And here we have irony in its most bland form.

  2. How does one define accountability? Therein lies the conundrum. Too many who serve in administrative positions define accountability within very narrow limits which crush the creativity and motivation of those who work under them. They fail to value unique personalities and strengths which add diversity and breadth to the workplace. They expect their employees to be carbon copies of themselves. Instead of celebrating hard work and a passion for the job, they dampen that passion through micromanagement and punitive evaluations.