Leadership and accountability: What every leader needs to know

In his role as founder and president of Priority Thinking, Peter DeMarco wears many hats: executive coach, organizational consultant, ethics facilitator, strategy advisor. Coupled with wide-ranging leadership experiences through his career, DeMarco has a unique, in-depth perspective on the keys to good leadership and the psychology behind shaping a successful workplace.

Read on for his thoughts on accountability in the workplace, the importance of taking responsibility and the benefits of TurningPoint.

You had a lot of experience in the corporate world before starting Priority Thinking. Why were you drawn to working as an educator and a consultant?

With an early start in engineering and IT into operations, I shifted to spending a lot of time running factories in Mexico and the U.S., later focusing on turn-arounds. After one particularly exhausting turnaround, my private equity firm sent me to interview to be the chief operating officer for another company they had in their portfolio.

During the interview, I met a guy who I thought was more qualified for the role than me. The board of directors hadn’t considered him, because he did not have an MBA. I recall telling them that I could probably teach him the numbers faster than he could teach me the company’s products. That’s how my coaching career started. He was my first client. The company is still my client 16 years later.

At the end of the day, if you really think about accountability, it’s your ability to freely choose to accept full responsibility for your choices and conduct.

What kind of companies do you work with as a consultant?

Our clients range from small family businesses to Fortune 50 companies, but our sweet spot is in the middle markets – family businesses, private equity companies – where the leadership team is key to moving the company to the next level of performance.

You recently hosted the webinar “A five-step recipe for strengthening accountability in your organization.” What does accountability mean to you?

At the end of the day, if you really think about accountability, it’s your ability to freely choose to accept full responsibility for your choices and conduct. It’s kind of a common-sense realization that a deeply mature person seeks to own as much as they can, and in doing that they role model the best of human dignity and behaviors.

In the webinar, you also talk about how accountability is better than empowerment. Could you explain why that is?

The simple answer is that empowerment feels good until you realize that it really hasn’t changed things as much as you thought. This is when leaders say, “I’ve empowered you to go do this” instead of designing it into your job. What most employees tell me is, “Well, I was empowered until I wasn’t.” Which meant, I screwed up and then they withdrew the power. I think empowerment isn’t bad as much as it’s improperly communicated.

Do you ever encounter resistance to this idea?

I encounter very little resistance except from one group, human resources, which is heavily invested in the word [empowerment]. I’ve learned to be more careful about saying, “What is power?” because power is a critical currency of leadership. To deny that power is not at work in leadership is just not to understand the nature of it.

You mentioned that you started using TurningPoint over a decade ago. How do you integrate it into your trainings?

We’ll set up demographic and firmographic questions into our slides. Our company is called Priority Thinking, and we have a very robust way of thinking about priorities as a basket of goods. Those goods have to be ordered into natural hierarchies. Instead of telling them what the hierarchy should be, we’ll use TurningPoint to help determine what the priorities should be versus what they actually are.

This technology is a very powerful way to activate potential from people whose voices can’t be heard. It helps me activate other people’s thinking and draw out conflict.

Want to learn more? Check out “A five-step recipe for strengthening accountability in your organization.”