If you think that the protests in New York are just about race and police behavior, you are wrong. They are about the lack of accountability, and this problem stretches into many corners of our business and personal lives.
Last night, I sat 40 miles outside of New York City and watched on TV (and Twitter) as protestors shut down one of the busiest roads in Manhattan, the West Side Highway. They were reacting to the news that a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer for the choking death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man.
At the time of his death, Mr. Garner was allegedly selling loose cigarettes. When a man is killed for selling cigarettes, there has to be accountability.
I have been thinking about accountability for the past month, ever since a friend of mine mentioned that the leader of the non-profit where he works asked him to offer suggestions for improving the organization. After some thought, my friend came to the conclusion that no one was accountable for anything.
The non-profit has certain rules regarding employee performance. For example, you are supposed to file weekly reports about your activities and accomplishments. No one does, and nothing happens.
The organization has performance targets. The organization misses its targets, and nothing happens. There are no consequences.
When accountability disappears, chaos ensues.
People feel - correctly - as though doing the right thing no longer makes a difference. Why make the extra effort to do good when the people who perform badly get treated just the same as you?
People feel - correctly - as though their rights and dignity and personal safety can be violated, and no one cares.
Accountability is not a process that takes so long that you have to measure any progress in years.
Accountability is what happens when there is a direct and timely correlation between an action and the appropriate consequences.
Whether you care most about your family, social justice, equal rights, your career, or the future of human civilization, one thing should be clear: when accountability disappears, so does the promise of a bright future.
Bruce Kasanoff is a ghostwriter for entrepreneurs. Learn more at Kasanoff.com. He is the author of How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk.