Accountability… what is it good for?

Accountability… what is it good for?

Accountability. How many of you clenched a little at that word?

Most people associate it with blame. It is NOT. According to Merriam Webster, it means "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions”. Another way to say it is that accountability is integrity. It means you live up to your word. Not only to your clients and your family, but, also, to yourself.

When we are accountable, there are a host of benefits:

  • Trust - people trust people that are accountable to their word.
  • Predictability – when we can count on others to be accountable, we can start to predict outcomes.
  • Conflict Reduction- many organizational conflicts come from missed expectations or missed promises.
  • Improved Performance – people can count on others to do their job, so they complete their part and more gets done.

So why aren’t people accountable? I would argue that it is because many leaders don’t know how to be accountable. I was reminded in a conversation recently about the book Extreme Ownership by Jocko Wilink and Leif Babin.

The foundational story in this is Jocko taking ownership (Accountability) for a friendly fire engagement in Iraq. Things went wrong and people did things other than planned. But Jocko took responsibility for that and said:

  • “I could have communicated the mission better.”
  • “We could have shared comm’s during the engagement better.”
  • “I could have kept the team better informed.”

All too often many leaders, especially new ones, want to have the team be accountable. But if the team is not performing the job, it is the responsibility of the leader to:

  • Clarify the goal
  • Communicate with respect
  • Reinforce the goal and accountability
  • Remove obstacles to the goal
  • Model accountable behavior

I see it all the time. The leader delivers a goal and explains it in a staff meeting and “assumes” it is done. Here is what you can do to increase accountability:

  1. Communicate the mission/goal clearly and concisely.
  2. Clarify and confirm, have them clarify what they heard, and confirm what they are accountable for.
  3. Make the goals and progress visible, let people know where they and the team stand.
  4. Where required, step in, to coach.

To learn about the Three Conversation that Drive Ownership download the whitepaper Three Conversations for Managerial and Leadership Success.

John Gies

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