The Uncomfortable Challenge of Accountability

It is now generally accepted that those in positions of power during the ‘boom’ times – in governments, banks, other financial institutions, property development – did not exhibit mature management or leadership. The position is quite clear; either they knew what was going on and didn’t do anything about it or they didn’t know what was going on and, thereby, were not up to the jobs they were in. Either way, any crisis – and this has been major and has drastically affected people’s lives and may be a factor in the observed dramatic increase in suicide – there is an opportunity to learn from what has happened and set the solid foundations for future emotional, social and economic wellbeing for all citizens here and, indeed, elsewhere. I emphasise ‘all’ because what has emerged is that a dark narcissism had deeply infected the actions of the major players in the economic upturn and downturn.

There is a large stumbling block to learning from the mistakes made and that is a great reluctance on the part of the main players to reflect on their actions or lack of actions and to be accountable for same. There appears to be an entrenched position in there being no accountability. Admittedly, there is a drive towards introducing more regulation but regulation does not create the individual maturity, authenticity and independence that is critical to accountability. Neither does regulation guarantee accountability.

Furthermore, it was individuals who acted wrongly – not systems – and unless these individuals take up the urgent call in the crisis for mature reflection, the problem is far more serious than presently being portrayed. There is the equally serious consideration and that is, if reflection and accountability are not forthcoming, it has to be questioned whether or not those who have retained their managerial and leadership positions are truly up to the responsibilities of their jobs. I truly wonder if these individuals were asked to define maturity would they include authenticity, independence and accountability in their definition.

There is another question abegging – how is it that those individuals who held so much power do not possess the maturity to honestly address their role in what has transpired? These persons – mostly male – are highly educated, knowledgeable, wealthy, of an age where you would expect a wisdom of years, have (or had) huge status and wielded considerable power. However, none of these achievements or qualities is an index of maturity. Maturity automatically involves being authentic, independent and accountable, and I believe, it is here the crux lies. How many of the individuals concerned can claim to possess any of these essential human qualities?

Leaders and managers – like the rest of us – have their stories – and when you have not examined your own story and retained the ‘good’ and replaced the ‘bad’ of earlier years with mature openness, beliefs, attitudes, values and actions – you are likely to still operate out from defensive places.  In the training of managers and leaders it has not been seen as essential that they know and understand themselves first before they take on their highly responsible roles. There are four critical inner examinations required:

and when things go ‘wrong.’

You may have noticed that I put the words right and wrong in parenthesis, the reason being that I believe people are not consciously superior, greedy, narcissistic, aggressive and success addicted, but operate out unconsciously from these defensive places. However, whether or not your actions are consciously or unconsciously taken, you are accountable and that brings us back to precisely where we started.

When it comes to independence, how many of those who hold the reins of financial and political power can claim to be independent and not define themselves and their worth by any of the following – status, achievements, work, success, power, wealth? When you are dependent and have a deep fear of falling off your pedestal you will have a vested interest in not being accountable. Resolution is only possible when fear gives way to fearlessness and dependence to independence. And when it comes to authenticity – how many can put their hands on their hearts and declare that ‘I am always real in what I say and do’ in the face of possible responses from others of judgement, criticism, witch-hunts, ridicule, violence and condemnation. The reality is that no real progress is possible without authenticity.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist, National and International Speaker and Author. His latest book with co-author Dr. Helen Ruddle is Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, The Heart of a Mature Society is now available in all good bookshops.