The ancient Romans had a tradition: Whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: He stood under the arch.”
– Michael Armstrong

As all of you know I write a great deal about management and leadership, especially from the perspective of leadership as a gift rather than entitlement.

I saw an excellent blog post this morning that mentioned the fact that although US companies have spent literally billions on engagement programs we have made very little progress on creating environments where employees are truly engaged. The most recent Gallup studies indicate nearly 74% of American workers are either minimally engaged or actively disengaged.

I am not going to rant again about the literally billions of productivity and human losses that number represents, but suffice it to say it is there.

I think in many cases we have an accountability vacuum in our society in corporate and especially in government.

The reason I emphasized that the majority of spending was on engagement programs is because I passionately believe that is a big part of the problem- it is addressed as a program and assigned to some department, typically human resources to manage. So they go through the motions.

The vast majority of human resources departments are skilled at and managed for compliance, they keep the lid on.

We call basic skills like clear expectations, giving feedback, taking corrective action, and coaching soft skills. Oh yeah, we also don’t teach them in our B schools.

I am surprised engagement is at 36%...

Engagement is a culture and the accountability for it belongs in the C suite.
I remember many years ago when our CEO couldn’t figure out what key metrics to assign me as the Human Resources manager for my management incentive plan, (That’s a topic for a whole separate post).

He proposed that my entire incentive be based on executing a meaningful improvement, (ten percent or more), on our employee climate survey. I would be the only manager who had this goal.

I countered with the idea that I would put the same percentage of my incentive on the line for that single metric as he was…As you might suspect he wasn’t amused. He also declined to accept my challenge. He wouldn’t stand under the arch.

I think one of the fundamental differences between management and leadership is that commitment to personal accountability and being willing and able to create alignment with the vision.

When I teach leadership classes one of the challenges I make to “graduates” is to go to work every day being prepared to be fired for doing the right thing. I especially challenge C level leaders and HR people to make that commitment.

I don’t think everyone at every level should be expected to stand under the arch, but if you aspire to leadership I think it is a key requirement.
Authority must be balanced with responsibility in a kind of yin and yang relationship.
That is why I like Stephen MR Covey’s hierarchy of trust from compliance through competence to identity. 

The old models are horrifically obsolete.

When you hear all the ranting and raving about how Millennials and Gen Y are lazy your bullshit meter should be shrieking. They aren’t lazy; they just refuse to follow leaders who aren’t willing to build their credibility on a platform of identity and stand under the arch.
Can we really say that they are wrong….?


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