Deputy Barney Fife is keeping his usual vigilant watch on the peaceful streets of Mayberry when Gomer Pyle leaves the post office, climbs into his truck and makes an illegal U-turn on an empty street.
Barney fires up his squad car, stops Gomer and begins writing a ticket for the U-turn.
Gomer, surprised Barney is making a fuss over a minor infraction, appeals to Barney for leniency because of their friendship.
“For 10 years I have yet to betray the public trust. Now I’d be some public servant if I were to allow personal relationships to stand in the way of the performance of my duty.”
“What are you getting at?”
“I’m giving you a ticket for committing a 911, an illegal U-turn. Gomer, try to look at it from my side. You broke the law. It’s from little misdemeanors that major felonies grow and it’s my duty – it’s anybody’s duty – to stop ‘em before they get too far. The law must be upheld. If I – as just plain John Doe, an ordinary citizen – were to see you making a U-turn I’d have to make a citizen’s arrest. Gomer, you’ll be a better man if you try to think of us all working together for a common cause.”
Barney hands Gomer the ticket, returns to his car and then makes an illegal U-turn.
Gomer sees this and yells, “Citizen’s arrest. Citizen’s arrest.”
“What are you yelling about?”
“Like you said, you broke the law by making an illegal U-turn, and I hereby – as a citizen of the town of Mayberry in the United States of America – arrest you.” (Mayberry citizens who have gathered around are delighted to see the officious Barney get his comeuppance and cheer for Gomer.)
“What are you talking about?”
“You made a U-turn and it’s my duty as a law-abidin’ citizen to call you on it. You’re supposed to be setting an example for the rest of us. You made a mistake, Deputy, now write yourself a ticket.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“You hear that, folks? There’s two sets of laws. One for the police, and one for the ordinary citizen.”
Sheriff Andy Taylor steps in and tells Barney to write himself a ticket. Barney is furious and not only writes himself a ticket but, later, writes his resignation. (If you know anything about Barney, you know the resignation never happens.)
The Leader’s Slippery Slope
The Andy Griffith Show aired from 1960 through 1968, and “Citizen’s Arrest” is episode eleven and was broadcast December 16, 1963, in the show’s fourth season.
“Citizen’s Arrest” is as timely today as it was 50 years ago because it skewers the practice of double standards.
When “there’s two sets of laws” in the workplace, it’s viewed as a failure by leaders to hold people accountable for their bad behavior. And it’s anything but funny.
It’s a slippery slope because double standards – whether they take the form of a leader’s conscious decision to let certain performance slide or the mistaken belief that an under-performer will change their behavior on their own – put a leader’s credibility at risk.
Mayberry is a make-believe place. Mayberry-like behavior is not. My interviews with senior leaders at some of the world’s most respected companies prove that the moral compass guiding Mayberry’s citizens is alive and well in high-performing organizations.
Leaders at these successful companies view accountability less as an edict and more as a code that’s anchored by purpose and trust.
How these companies outperform their peers will be examined in my upcoming book, Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (February 2014, McGraw-Hill).
In high-performing cultures, accountability is a way of behaving based on character, mutual respect and the individual responsibility of doing what you’ll say you’ll do and “calling out” those who refuse to play by the rules or who cannot or will not pull their weight.
Values, commitments and accountability apply evenly to everyone.
Seven Questions to Ask About Under-Performance
When you see changes in someone’s performance – whether it’s a top performer or an average performer – you’ll need to figure out what’s happening in their life to account for the change.
You’ll need to dive beyond surface answers, and you can download for free Questions for the Iceberg Conversation.
Once the conversation with the under-performer occurs, answer these seven questions as you consider your next steps:
Failure to confront under-performance – whether it’s a top performer who refuses to play by the rules or an employee who’s unable or unwilling to meet expectations – is unfair to the rest of your workforce.
Your failure to act will cost you credibility.
Even well-run organizations have a Deputy Barney Fife or two in their midst.
Does your culture encourage a Gomer Pyle to yell “Citizen’s arrest”? If it does, your employees will cheer.
To dive even deeper into the topic of accountability, I invite you to purchase a copy of my bestselling book, “Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture.”
Business schools teach case studies. Hollywood blockbusters are inspired by true events.
Exceptional leaders are students of history. Decision-making comes with the territory.