Once again, college football provides an unfortunate example of accountability gone bad. Pry some good from this by upping your own game in 3 ways.
Big public lessons in accountability (or lack thereof) have become too frequent across all walks of life. And Urban Meyer is just the latest in the tiny niche of revered college football coaches in the unwanted spotlight (joining Brian Kelley of Notre Dame and Joe Paterno in recent history).
In the last month, we have watched as Ohio State University Head Coach Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave for potentially denying knowledge that Zach Smith, one of his assistant coaches, faced allegations of domestic violence in 2015.
After an expensive and thorough investigation, followed by 11 hours of deliberation by the board of trustees of Ohio State, Meyer was suspended for a laughable three games (only for the games, he still practiced with the team during the week) regarding his behavior related to his assistant coach Zach Smith.
One trustee, a former board chairman, actually walked out during the deliberations and resigned his position over the punishment’s lack of severity, so we can’t assume that the punishment fits the actions.
The report itself is available online, but the actual conclusions of it seem to still be in flux as Urban Meyer decided to clarify them Saturday (since he was unexpectedly free). We will never know exactly what happened (since Meyer seems to have deleted all of his text messages older than one year right after learning about Zach Smith’s restraining order), but we do know that his handling of the situation is less than ideal.
We also know that keeping an assistant coach around who had a troubled history, even if he was the grandson of a legendary former coach, was not a good idea. As the report stated and Meyer even shared himself:
The investigation identified multiple other examples of inappropriate conduct by Zach Smith while employed as an assistant football coach, some known by Coach Meyer and/or Gene Smith and others on the football staff. Coach Meyer and Athletic Director Smith’s efforts to help Zach Smith overcome his personal issues went too far in allowing him to remain as an employee in the face of repeated misconduct.
It’s not the first time suspicions of Meyer’s shortfall in the accountability department have surfaced. Sporting News reported in a 2012 article that Meyer had “broken Florida football” (Florida being where Meyer coached before taking the reins at Ohio State).
Accounts from multiple former players accused Meyer of leaving the Florida program in disarray with a pattern of preferential treatment for key players and enabling a sense of entitlement among all players. This correlates with reported drug use among players and the fact that 31 players were arrested during Meyer’s six-year tenure as Florida head coach.
Unfortunately, it appears this is yet another reminder that leaders simply cannot shirk their responsibility for holding others accountable. So, this terrible situation begs a question.
How can you create a culture of accountability?
1. Build feedback skills.
Accountability flows when you get really good at giving feedback, and yes, that includes giving feedback to your boss. Go beyond just personally role modeling the skill to making it an expectation that your entire team builds this skill.
The most powerful work environments I’ve ever been in were where a culture of honesty and integrity encouraged real-time and real-truth feedback loops across functions.
2. Go public with commitments and revisit them often.
On the coaching side of my business, I stress the importance of having an accountability partner, someone you can publicly share your commitments with and that will help hold you accountable.
As a leader, communicate team decisions to the troops and ask them to help hold you accountable for delivering. Make reinforcement of these commitments a daily habit. In leadership team meetings I use to ask that we start out with a review of what we committed to do in the last meeting.
Repetition yields responsibility.
3. Make consequences and rewards crystal clear.
Meyer has especially fallen down here, sending mixed messages to players/coaches on what happens when you do things you’re not supposed to.
There is no room for playing favorites in leadership. There’s even less room for a lack of clarity on what’s expected, what happens when that’s not delivered, and what happens when it is.
I fervently hope that we stop getting so many public, egregious examples of failed accountability thrust upon us. We can’t control that, of course. But we can be accountable for learning from these accountability transgressions.