You Have to be able to Answer the Accountability Question

We are only effective within an organization, over the long haul, if we know how to participate in an authoritative community where it is clear that there are structures and lines of intentional accountability.   No one – absolutely no one – is above this basic rule of life, of work and of organizations. 

When pastors, typically in mega churches, become virtual icons and in effect the glue that holds the church together, not only are they in danger [spiritually] but the church is stunningly vulnerable.  When priests in Roman Catholic communities are only accountable to their bishop and then only behind closed doors – with no transparency for accountability they have violated the trust of their parishioners – they are vulnerable but more to the point the parish is vulnerable.   When leaders of non-profits are in their roles for so long that the organization cannot conceive of anyone else in that role – they are viewed as one and the same as the organization, and in some cases the non-profit is actually named after them – there can be no real accountability.  

You should be able to answer three questions.   To whom are you accountable for the character and quality of your work?   Second, what are the agreed upon standards by which one’s effectiveness will be assessed?  And then the third question which is equally critical:  is this actually and existentially a genuine accountability?  In other words, a pastor might say – in a congregational system of governance – that he is accountable to his congregation.  But no, this does not work:  the congregation has no actual mechanism for holding the pastor accountable.   Recently in asking this question of a denominational leader I was struck by her response when I asked her to whom she is accountable and she made reference to three different entities that all to some degree have some level or presumed capacity to call her to account.  But with three different agencies, each might assume the other will take the lead.  In actual fact it is too ambiguous; we need clarity.  We need to know to whom we are accountable and it should be evident in the intentional means by which that entity exercises their due diligence to not only empower us to do our work but hold us to the highest standards, the very standards we have set for ourselves. 

Faculty report to their program heads or Deans.   Directors report, as often as not, to a vice president.   Staff members report to a team leader.  Presidents and pastors and executive directors report to a board of trustees.  But even, in my case, where I report to a board, I have to ask:  does this board have the mechanisms in place to actually hold me accountable?  Have I given them the and agreed with them on the standards by which I should be judge to be effective?  And if that effectiveness slips or is lost does the board have the capacity to have the tough conversation?   Not likely, which is I insist that it must be a smaller entity – in my case the “executive committee” of the board, a group of five senior members of the board.  But, it also needs to be the board chair who leads the executive committee and assures that this work is actually being done.    And then speaks to me with clarity and grace when the time comes to say what needs to be said. 

Three questions.   To whom are you accountable?  What are the agreed upon criteria by which you will be assessed to be effective?   And, third, is there a genuine mechanism to communicate this accountability?   Long term effectiveness in an organization requires the capacity to answer each of these questions.

Author

Gordon T. Smith

Gordon T. Smith is the president of Ambrose University located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Ambrose is an institution owned by the Church of the Nazarene and the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. It includes a whole range of undergraduate programs, including education, business, music, behavioural sciences an biology, as well as history, English and psychology. Ambrose also includes an undergraduate school of ministry formation. And, last but not least, there is Ambrose Seminary, a fully accredited graduate level institution of theological formation. Gordon has been the president since August of 2012.

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