A Fresh Take On Accountability

It seems that everyone today wants to talk about accountability.  Not a week goes by when a leader or a team does not ask, “How can I make people accountable?”  “How do I make sure that everyone does their work and takes ownership?”

Sometimes, I wonder when they ask this, “What do they mean by accountability?”  Oftentimes, I believe that the distinction between accountability and compliance is not always clear to those who ask.  I get the sense that, for many, being accountable is basically getting the work done in the way that the boss wants them to get the work done.  That, to me, is being reliable and competent — qualities that might be a part of being accountable.

When I think of accountability, I think of shared responsibility. I think of mutual commitment. I think of common purpose and managed expectations.  I imagine people taking ownership.  I imagine the language that people use reflecting the sense that everyone is in this together —  “we” rather then “they;” “ours,” rather then “theirs.”

I imagine people asking, “What can we do?” rather than, “What can you do?” I don’t see any finger pointing or people blaming each other when expectations are not met.  Everyone rolls up their sleeves and contributes as the situation demands.  Like the CEO who helps set up the room for a large meeting, or a director of a large office helping crunch numbers with their administrative staff, or a president of an organization making coffee for everyone when they all have to burn the midnight oil to meet deadlines.

So much has been written about accountability – the dimensions of…, the principles of…, the characteristics of…, and on and on.  So, why do we not yet have all the answers?

Perhaps we are not asking the right questions.  Perhaps the questions ought to be more like: “What am I doing that does not promote accountability in others?”; or, “How am I showing up as a leader to make others not follow me?”

In my mind, the path to accountability is a very simple road to map. I believe accountability is the direct outcome of care. It is a natural product of leading with authenticity and genuine engagement that inspires care and commitment.

Perhaps we should be asking: “Am I sharing a compelling story — one that others will care about and would want to fully participate in?”