November 2017

Professional Accountability: What it Means and Why it Matters

Professional Accountability: What it Means and Why it Matters

By James Mossburg

One scorching August afternoon, only a month into my new job as a Marine Infantry Platoon Commander, I found myself standing at attention in front of the Battalion Commander's desk, covered in sweat and ash. "Mossburg, old man, tell me what's going on..." The Colonel had a big, booming voice – one that echoed out from his office and filled the Battalion Headquarters. At this volume, most of Camp Pendleton would immediately know two things: first, there was a problem; second, someone named Mossburg owned that problem.

I quickly launched into the events that had me standing at attention before the man in charge. Earlier that morning, my Company Commander had assigned a small group from the Weapons Platoon to my platoon. Unbeknownst to me, one of my newly acquired Marines brought with him a few "flash-bangs" – thinking it was just a loud firecracker. The young Marine in question thought that setting one off would be a great way to grab everyone's attention for a quick, impromptu class in the field. He had no idea how successful he would be.

Under the blazing California sun, his seemingly good intentions quickly caught the surrounding brush on fire. The ensuing twenty-acre fire would go on to claim a few of our packs, three or four flak jackets, and a half dozen helmets or so. An entire Company of Marines would be forced to utilize entrenching tools to try and limit the damage. Even with these efforts, the Camp Pendleton Fire Department would have to scramble a handful of engines to extinguish the brushfire. All of which landed me in a very unwanted spotlight. For while I wasn't the one who caused the blaze, I would be the one accountable for it. At every level of military leadership, there is an oft-repeated mantra around accountability: as a leader, you are responsible for everything your unit does or does not do. The Colonel would go on to emphasize that point in no uncertain terms, and at a volume that would ensure the rest of the Battalion would heed that lesson as well.

Almost two decades later, I'd find myself living that scenario all over again during a recent client engagement. While working on an application deployment, some minor network changes had inadvertently taken down Internet access for a very large, customer-facing part of the business. Although the issue did not stem from our team, walking away from the ensuing bonfire (and a very irate client) was not an option. Instead, we dug in to help find a solution.

While our team didn't have an immediate answer, we were able to find the people who could provide one. Frustration gradually gave way to relief. Though we lost time, we gained allies because we took ownership and helped solve a problem that wasn't of our own making. As consultants, we often find ourselves in challenging situations. What I learned the hard way so many years ago about being professionally accountable directly applies to my everyday life as a consultant. If you recognize that a problem exists, you should be diligent in helping to find a solution.

Being professionally accountable doesn't mean you created the problem; it means you're going to do everything you can to solve it. Without oversight and accountability, issues — like wildfires — don't get resolved and can soon go out of control. Almost two decades later, it's much easier to laugh when my friends from the Marines talk about the time I "almost burned down Camp Pendleton". Of course, those two decades have also given me a much better perspective on accountability and a greater appreciation for the lessons I learned as a Marine.

James Mossburg

You need to know...

The incident that the author details happened while he was a Platoon Commander in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (1/5). The colonel he speaks of in his article was then LtCol John Boggs, yes, me.

An equally important leadership note—I was particularly proud of Lt Mossburg. No, I did not tell him that, but I shared my feelings with his Company Commander. He withstood a verbal dressing down that was intended to be painful as well as unforgettable. He made no attempt at passing the blame for the fire nor raised the issue of his attempt to put the fire out to mitigate the situation.

Lt James Mossburg took responsibility for the situation—no excuses, no stories, he did what a leader should do—take responsibility for his unit and everything that happens or fails to happen. Leaders at every level should take note and apply the lesson.

James, thank you for allowing me to reprint your article. And I have always been very proud of you.

Semper Fidelis,
John Boggs
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

Rocks and Shoals

It never fails that in order to make a difference, or a meaningful change driving the boat hard towards the sure devastation of rocks and shoals is what is necessary. The number of women stepping forward to speak out about sexual harassment is the first step. The next step must include unfair pay and job opportunity. Being continually passed over for that promotion or job that is intended only for the high-potentials is no longer acceptable.

Women in leadership positions are good the organization and good for business. If you are unaware of Sweden's Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, I highly recommend learning about her, see the NY Times article of November 20, 2017. She is a woman who stands up and is making no apologies for being who she is. She is driving the boat and looking to force change.

Take the time to read the article I hope you will find it uplifting. I did.


I am often asked for leadership advice based on my Marine Corps experience for use in business. This section is providing short leadership tips you can use to become an Exceptional Leader. Being good on any given day is easy. Being exceptional requires daily effort. Enjoy the read.

Tact is the ability to work with others in a fashion that maintains good relations and avoids being offensive. It is doing what's right at the right time without crushing others.

Tact is consistently treating peers, seniors, and subordinates with respect and courtesy. It is a sign of maturity and the mark of a skilled leader. It allows for expectations, guidance, and opinions to be expressed constructively and beneficially. No, I am not saying sugar coat everything you say. I am saying a degree of self-editing is a good thing. Deference must be extended under all conditions regardless of your true feelings.

Being a leader is not easy. And a leader with no tact runs the risk of being considered a thoughtless bully. Few leave the job they leave the leader.

Current Happenings

My new book "Developing Business Leadership Skills—The Practical Guide to Effectively Being In-Charge" is available on Amazon, Kindle, and iBooks. Check it out and leave a review!

My book "Leading With Fortitude: The Essentials" is still free, go to my website to download it.


The "21st Century Community Policing and Cultural Competency Online Course" is open for enrollment.

Although the course is intended for Law Enforcement Professionals, anyone in a leadership position will benefit from the course. Particularly the third module "Cultural Competency." That module goes into the significance of cultures and how to effectively work across culture, race and gender.

The feedback has been superb. We have had over a hundred comments and over 95% of the comments have indicated the course is "spot-on" and "timely."

Special pricing and considerations are offered for Department-wide course enrollment.

On-Line Leadership Education

The Fortitude Online Leadership Academy will open with its first courses at the end of the month.

Over the past year, I have been made painfully aware of the vast number of midlevel and junior executives that do not have access to leadership coaching or development.

For some, there is no in-house leadership program, and for others, one on one coaching and leadership development is cost prohibitive.

The Fortitude Leadership Academy will cover topics of interest to the neophyte leader and the seasoned senior executive. The courses will be in small bite size lectures and at an investment price point that is affordable.

Everyone should have access to a quality leadership education.


Fortitude Consulting, teaming with BAF Security Solutions will be standing up a Law Enforcement Leadership Academy. Stay tuned.


We, Col Byron Freeman U.S. Army (Ret.) President of BAF Security Solutions and I have been invited back for a third year to give the 21st Century Community Policing and Cultural Competency Course at Delta College in Michigan.

Enroll now on the website.

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