The difference between Blame and Accountability

Author: Pranay Srinivasan

We all make mistakes.

Errors of judgement, misplaced leaps of faith, problems of trust, bad timing, misplaced loyalty, uninformed opinions, wrong assumptions, badly researched bets… Mistakes come in all shapes, sizes and hues.

I’ve written multiple times before about the importance of Culture… the resonance of Values.. and the importance of faith in building a startup.

As a startup grows into a larger company, It’s easy to get lulled into a place where laissez-faire startup culture meets dogmatic corporate work standards.

So as a “startup team member” you’re entitled to free lunches, work from home as much as you please, flexible hours, and unfettered access to the leadership inside a “flat” organization. You’re allowed to make mistakes, move fast and break things, and generally work around every single paradigm of corporate slavery — thats what makes it so attractive.

But as the startup scales, you become a distributed team, goals get loftier, processes become more complex, the team grows into an org chart, and an exec team is formed to be the company’s stewards. Venture Investment means scale matters, tests need to succeed, and shit needs to happen.

Suddenly, you’re having to chase people for information, results have a deadline, and people are looking at you for results, insights and plans. Its no longer all “Kumbaya”. The company’s survival suddenly depends on your decisions, your inputs.

Your hard work, speed and accuracy determine meaningful outcomes for the company. And no, you can’t pick two.

Thing begin to fail. You succeed at a few assignments but fail in the rest. Maybe systems are not up to speed, information is patchy, and conversations are hurried. Everyone is overburdened because things are moving faster than you expected. Its harder to play catch-up.

People expect you to have the information, plan for the future and be diligent about winning the key moments of the game. They expect you to take charge of your part of the puzzle and get upset when things are not proceeding to plan.

“It’s unfair”, you think. “How am I expected to have all the information, all of the time?”

“How am I responsible for all these tasks when I dont have inadequate information to perform my tasks? How can I be blamed for this”

The answer is: You’re not being blamed, you’re being held accountable.

Leaders hold themselves accountable because they realize that in the end all fuck-ups are their fuck-ups, regardless of whether they did it themselves, they let it happen benignly, whether a subordinate did it or if they were negligent about it.

*Accepting* a failure and *understanding* that you messed up isleadership.

*Preventing*it from happening again is management.

The difference is leadership.

Learning the difference between the two is growth.



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