On Accountability: The Buck Never Stops



It was a strange, but telling, spectacle when those who billed the government millions for working on its Affordable Health Care registration system denied any accountability for the portal’s astounding failure.

“The other guy did it,” as they say in court. The client kept changing specs, no one did any whole-system testing, other vendors are to blame — blah, blah, blah.

Whatever shred of truth lay in their blame-shifting ran up against another wall of non-accountability. The Republicans did it with their insane sequestration, said Democrats. The Democrats did it, said the GOP. Health and Human Services did it. The Oval Office did it.

In the end, of course, no one will accept accountability, for we live in an age when the “buck” never stops on one’s own desk, if it stops at all.

The Revolving Door of Church 'CEOs'

Clergy, Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock.com

Clergy, Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock.com

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s surprise decision to retire does more than throw the technology industry into a frenzy of speculation. It raises the problem of succession.

From major corporations to startups led by visionary leaders, from universities to churches, the departure of the top leader can stop momentum and usher in months, perhaps years, of uncertainty.

Even though dealing with succession is a primary task for a board of directors — some say it’s their preeminent task — relatively few boards take the assignment seriously. They focus instead on the easier work of jousting with the top leader and shilling for institutional investors.

What should be an orderly process of preparing for leadership transition instead becomes a lurching from one standalone regime to the next.

Many board members want the rush of being co-managers of the institution. This is especially true in churches, where boards enjoy making day-to-day decisions about operations. Since a strong central leader would get in their way, many church councils discourage strong clergy and reward compliant permission seekers.

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Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

COMMENTARY: Leaders Who Can Act like Grown Ups

Leadership illustration, 3DProfi / Shutterstock.com

Leadership illustration, 3DProfi / Shutterstock.com

I just spent a wonderful and encouraging weekend with a church leadership team from Reisterstown, Md. I came away filled with hope for this congregation and with admiration for their clergy and lay leaders.

I wish our weak and tiresome political leaders in Washington and state capitals could visit this church in northern Baltimore County and see how mature adults of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints manage to put the congregation first.

They listened, spoke without barbed words and without aggression garbed in niceness.

They voiced their dreams, heard their differences, and then allowed a consensus dream to emerge. They understood the need to move on from yesterday. They were like two healthy parents trying to work a family problem. They seemed to trust each other.

A Call for a New Social Covenant

file404 / Shutterstock.com

file404 / Shutterstock.com

In the past 20 years, the world has witnessed the death of social contracts. We have seen a massive breakdown in trust between citizens, their economies, and their governments. In our own country, we can point to years of data painting a bleak picture of the confidence Americans have in any of our traditional institutions.

Former assumptions and shared notions about fairness, agreements, reciprocity, mutual benefits, social values, and expected futures have all but disappeared. The collapse of financial systems and the resulting economic crisis not only have caused instability, insecurity, and human pain; they have also generated a growing disbelief and fundamental distrust in the way things operate and how decisions are made. 

This week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, we are looking to the future and asking “what now?” At a Saturday session — “The Moral Economy: From Social Contract to Social Covenant” — a document will kick off a year-long global conversation about a new “social covenant” between citizens, governments, and businesses.

This is really “a call” for worldwide discussion about what values are needed to address the many difficult challenges and choices the world is now facing. Inequality, austerity, retrenchment, constraints, mal-distribution, growing conflicts over resources, and extreme poverty all raise questions about our values.