Accountability Crisis: How To Stop Leadership Fraud

I love to travel and have had the great fortune to visit several countries on my bucket list. One place I’ve never been is Venezuela. But when I read the headlines, I wonder if I’ve missed my window of opportunity to visit that gorgeous country.

Ten years ago, Venezuela was one of the richest nations in Latin America and the world’s fifth-largest producer of oil. Farms there grew enough food to export, and the middle class was growing at a comfortable pace. But when the price of oil tanked as demand slumped worldwide, so did Venezuela’s economy. Now the news is horrifying: Inflation is at 720 percent, starving citizens are rooting through trash for food, and political protests have taken a violent, bloody turn.

Many put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the country’s leadership. That’s no surprise when you take a broader look at the world. Whether we’re talking about governments or corporations, good leadership makes the difference between success that can be enjoyed at all levels — or miserable, all-consuming failure. From politics to business and beyond, when leaders aren’t held accountable, we all lose.

The recent fake account scandal at Wells Fargo serves as another cautionary tale. Pressure from CEO John Stumpf to meet sales goals prompted employees to create up to 2 million fraudulent bank accounts and credit card applications, generating $2.6 million in fees. Stumpf was hauled before the U.S. Senate, where he was grilled without mercy, and he retired a few weeks later with a reported $133 million. But the damage to America’s largest bank was done. Incidentally, more than 5,000 employees were terminated in the scandal, but no senior executives were fired.

I would argue that there is an accountability crisis in today’s boardrooms. It’s a crisis born from many factors: legacy inertia, fear of failure, fear of change, inflexibility, perfectionism, a blinding pursuit of profit. In short, it’s about not creating a space for innovation to flourish.

But there is something we can do about it. We need an Innovation Revolution. As a business consultant who spent years working in corporate America, I understand the Herculean task of changing workplace culture. I developed a program called Smart Speed that I believe offers a solution because it is a mindset, a method and a movement away from the madness. I could regale you with success stories, but instead I want to focus on a few quick ideas to help push The Innovation Revolution.

Here are 3 Quick Ideas:

  1. Change your perspective

I always love it when Dr. Phil confronts his patients with this singular question: “How’s that working for ya?” It’s simple but effective, and it’s a great reminder of that old definition of insanity. If something isn’t working in your business — you can’t get the desired results, you can’t increase revenue, you can’t figure out how to leverage new technology — change your perspective and try something new. But to do so requires this next step:

  1. Keep An Open Mind

Fear of failure and embarrassment keeps many leaders from trying new ideas. They get promoted and keep toeing the company line so they can feel safe and secure in their hard-fought position. While that may get you a steady paycheck, it’s not going to get you or your company to the next level. Keeping an open mind means figuring out who your most innovative employees are, really listening to them and providing the resources to make their ideas happen. It also means giving them a second chance when something doesn’t work the first time.

  1. Borrow Great Ideas From Others

I’m not talking about shooting yourself out of a cannon just because it worked for the flying Zacchinis. I’m talking about co-opting ideas that have worked for someone else, somewhere else, in a similar situation.  The ideas you borrow don’t have to come from your competitors, either. They can be from a completely different discipline, tweaked to fit your current situation. It’s the new art of R&D – Rip and Duplicate.

Leadership doesn’t have to be a weasel word. Good leadership is not hard to define. It doesn’t change depending on the time or place or problem. I was recently inspired by the story of Alan Mulally, who pulled Ford Motor Co. out of its financial tailspin when he joined as CEO in 2006. Mulally became known for encouraging truth-telling in the boardroom, for having lunch with rank-and-file employees and for keeping a positive attitude.

Journalist Bryce Hoffman, who covered Mulally’s tenure for The Detroit News and wrote a book about him, said this in an interview with NPR:

Everyone waited for him to realize just how serious the problems were and kind of become dejected and fall into the morass that so many of his predecessors had when they recognized the scope and the magnitude of Ford’s problems. Mulally never did that. He never capitulated to fear…He always saw one of his key roles as kind of being the cheerleader-in-chief, keeping everybody motivated and focused. It was almost a little corny to have this ‘rah-rah’ attitude, especially when things were so dire. He never diminished the magnitude of the problems. He just believed that Ford could fix them.

Leadership accountability is embedded in my Smart Speed method. It helps turn leaders into what I call “leadovators” and encourages employees to think of themselves as “intraprenuers” and not just working watching the clock until it’s time to go home. Like Alan Mulally, a 21st-century leadovator must inspire intrapreneurs to co-create and co-lead this new shift to revolutionize business-as-usual and deliver results among the complex distractions. It can be done. More importantly, it must be done. It’s your only hope to successfully lead the Innovation Revolution and stop leadership fraud dead in its tracks. Your move.

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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