Anyone else wanting to write a letter to him lately? He’s been on my mind as I watch and listen to the various media conversations about his approach to the Ray Rice situation. Add my curiosity about the seemingly sudden policy on domestic abuse in the NFL, and my leadership lens is focusing over and over on how this will resolve.

For those of you who are not sports fans, let me offer you a brief background to this situation…
Mr. Goodell, let’s call him “Commish”, is a longtime partner in your law firm. He’s been around for many years, some of which as Managing Partner, some as not. Ray Rice is a young partner, highly compensated and extremely talented. Sounding familiar now?

Something surfaces which clearly demonstrates inappropriate Ladder of Accountability
(perhaps illegal) choices/behaviors on the part of attorney Rice, and Commish is informed about this event. Maybe it involved a holiday party and a staff member, maybe something involving an illegal substance and driving, I’ll let you use your imagination (or real life) to add this element to the story. Regardless of what you chose, you know what Commish knows — that something went down that wasn’t cool, and wasn’t good for the reputation of the firm, or the well being of the partnership. What happens next?

If we keep the story true to form, then we know that Commish informs the media that he didn’t know anything had happened. In our law firm story, you know something wasn’t right, and you talked with Commish about it, but he remained stoic and consistent in being unaware of anything. In the ladder of accountability, as pictured here, we call this unaware and unconscious. You see, Commish is “better off not knowing” about this indiscretion, which gives him all the opportunity to live in the past, where the roses all smell fresh, and the partners all get along great.

Again, keeping the story true to form, Commish next sets out to blame the court system for the inability to access the video, leaving no ownership (aka accountability) on his (or the NFL’s) shoulders. Back to our law firm, and we see how blame is passed around – to the other elements of the situation (he’s been under a lot of pressure, he’s only had this one misbehavior, etc.) and the next rung on the ladder is brought to life.

The trouble is that we live in a culture where we seek accountability relentlessly. This doesn’t mean we have accountability in our own lives, merely that we seek to hold those in authority (politics, anyone?) to being accountable to their title. To their title. We believe that someone with a leadership title is a leader. That’s the second flaw.

I can’t hold anyone more accountable than I hold myself. Hence the current trouble with Goodell and the NFL. And, in a lot of law firms around the country.

Stepping back into our law firm example, Commish has the opportunity to step forward and address this inappropriateness with some form of consequence, whether that’s loss of partnership or not, something is done to demonstrate accountability to the greater good of your law firm. Does he? And, your role as Administrator, are you also playing along by making excuses for Commish (and possibly the other partners) if he doesn’t take action?

Ladder of Accountability DividedThe ladder of accountability provides a simple visual to the steps we all take each day, both up and down as we navigate the challenges we face. How long have you sat in “wait and hope” while you wrestled with a problem that you wanted to just go away? I believe Mr. Goodell is keeping you good company right now, as he waits and hopes the media will let go of this story and move on to the next one. Still not taking accountability for the role the NFL played in this situation. How about Commish in your law firm? Have you watched “wait and hope” happen while some partner is allowed to turn in time sheets or prebills whenever they wanted?

Anything on the ladder discussed to this point is living in the past and is living with things happening to you. In other words, these bottom four rungs are victim mindset, and a far cry from leadership. Hence our collective and continued disgruntled thoughts about Mr. Goodell and our frustration at times with partnerships that don’t create accountability among their peers. It is when we approach the acknowledgement of reality, stepping into embracing and owning our role in our organizations that there is a shift. And, once we seize accountability as leaders, we grow our ability to hold others accountable. Commish has the opportunity to hold attorney Rice accountable, if he has continued on an accountable path himself. If not, it will be very difficult for Commish to influence Rice toward acceptable consequence, seeming hypocritical (you know this one, I’m guessing) in his approach. The undermining of leadership is a hypocritical approach to leading!

Leadership, in the form of a verb, demands accountability. It demands searching for and implementing solutions, identifying the direction to take, and following the path to take it. In other words, leadership with accountability creates an environment where things are happening because you are making them happen. It is a ladder, we move through the rungs on a regular basis — the true test of leadership is the awareness of where you are at on the spectrum.

What are you influencing in your firm? Are you holding yourself accountable? Are you aware of the places you have excuses or blame?

For more information and further reading on Accountability, visit our online library.

Download Article (PDF)