Something short of a miracle occurs in some lucky organizations where leaders spontaneously ‘jump in’ and take over a piece of orphan responsibility, or lend a helping hand to other colleagues without having been asked.
Perhaps the most beautiful music in the lucky organization is the expression ‘leave it with me’.
The key, and the trick, is the term spontaneous. It does not have to be. It is not dictated by the boss or top leaders. The expression ‘taking accountability’ in English means precisely that: to take. It does not have to be given.
Accountability is a term that does not translate well outside English. In many other languages it translates as responsibility.
I’ve written many times that the key to the logic of differentiation, if you want one, is in the etymology. Accountability belongs to counting, call to account. Responsibility belongs to responding. My heuristic rule is to suggest to clients that responsibility (responding) is something that can be shared, whilst accountability is not.
But one way or another, when spontaneity kicks in, when it is not in your job description to ‘jump in and help’, to volunteer a ‘leave it with me’, then the magic stars. It is the magic of collective leadership.
There are not many ways to inject this in the system, but, fortunately, the few there are, can be very effective.
One, hire people with that attitude, those who can navigate that element of ambiguity, those who can cross borders and are not hooked into a rigid job description as their expectation.
Two, once you see this thing happen, make it very visible. ‘Jumping in’ and ‘leave it with me’ are behaviours, therefore they are contagious, it’s Homo Imitans. It will spread, it will be copied.
It can’t be dictated, but it can be orchestrated (‘planted’) and multiplied.
With my behavioural hat on, this is a simple behaviour that has very high impact. If you have it in your company DNA, you are lucky. But don’t take it for granted. Nurture it, reinforce it, make it visible, give it airtime. If you don’t have it, start somewhere with same role models, particularly with people highly connected and visible. Then reinforce, celebrate, talk about it.
It is not the anecdotal case that is important. It is how we can make it normal, embed it into the culture.