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Management Skills: Accountability

“Accountability is the glue that holds everything together.” Kurt Reinhart

Words have meaning. They can have a very specific meaning, and we can fixate on how a select word is defined in our per view. Take the word “consequence”. What do you immediately think when that word is used? In almost every circumstance, I contend, we think of it in some type of negative way.

I searched the word, and the first hits seem to put the word’s context into a negative light. Take these: 

  • “When people do something wrong, like rob a bank, the consequence will probably be prison time.”
  • “It is commonly used with such words as adverse, dire, disastrous, fatal, harmful, negative, serious, tragic and unfortunate.” 
  • “Poor choices can lead to serious consequences.”

Consequence is defined as a result, effect, or conclusion of an action or condition. Think about it. It’s neutral. Yes, if I rob a bank and get caught, what is my consequence? If I make good choices, work hard, and invest time and energy in my family and future, what is my consequence?

Another word that can all too often have a negative connotation is “accountability”. Think about this one. When are we most likely to bring up and use this word? In a managerial context, it can be used primarily when something has become so bad, we now have to hold someone accountable for their actions. Again, the hits while searching suggested it becomes a conversation when we need to correct a team member’s error, poor performance, or shortcoming. This is a very narrow reality.

Accountability in leadership

Like consequence, accountability is neutral. It is defined as the quality or state of being accountable; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. It is a driver for behavior. It is in every way the energy that directs choice. It’s waking up knowing we are accountable for our contribution to the day. Accountability is owning what we do and how we do it. It represents the boundaries for how we engage in our thinking and doing.

Basketball coaching legend, Pat Summitt, said, “Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.” I absolutely agree. I believe accountability is interchangeable with responsibility and ownership, and connects with every aspect of my day to day. It is how I step into whatever I am given. I intentionally zoom out of the myopic, or nearsighted view that it only exists within the construct of correction or in those moments when someone has fallen short.

I have found working with various organizations that the definition of accountability can have a one-sided point of view and lack a broader context. Now would be a good time to challenge our understanding.

Boost your accountability management skill today

Get a sheet of paper and a pen. Draft your answers to some or all of following questions:

  • How do you define accountability, really?
  • How would your team define it?
  • What are the most common situations where you and your team bring it up?
  • What are the ways you deliver accountability within your team and organization?
  • How are you combining accountability with your understanding of consequence and discipline?
  • What are some ways you can foster a more neutral and positive accountability atmosphere?
  • How would you assess your percentage of correction versus praise being delivered?
  • How often are you discussing personal, team, and organizational accountability?
  • Why is a clear definition of accountability essential in personal and professional development?

Maybe the biggest “ahas” from these questions will be a realization of the moments when we are typically bringing up accountability. Maybe the only time we hear it and deal with it is at the end of a process. Maybe, more times than not, only if and when someone or something has not met an expectation.

I have made a very conscious decision to avoid bringing this up at the end of something. I steer away from the punitive “if this, then this” mentality. With previous clients and now with our current teams, I start with it. 

I lead with the accountability-responsibility-ownership mindset. Then I make it an ongoing consideration – whereby accountability becomes woven into every aspect of our growth and development journey. We choose to live by this. To provide this example to our teams. To define how specific accountability behaviors are to be delivered within the organization.

Accountability is something we can all agree matters. It’s about an acceptance of the part we play in outlook, choice, outcome, and overall growth. All of it. As leaders, our job is to clarify and provide the opportunities for our team to be successful. I cannot stress this enough, it starts with our definitions. From our own point of view and with whom we lead, how we are defining success, and how accountability can get us there.

6 ways you can bring focus on accountability

  1. Conduct a meeting where everyone honestly collaborates on the definition of accountability
  2. Carefully consider how expectations are being clarified and then monitored and measured
  3. When and where possible, have your team contribute to the setting of goals and targets
  4. Evaluate how feedback is given, as well as when and how often it is given
  5. Create peer to peer partnerships, with consistent and open conversation about behavior
  6. Pay close attention to the balance of providing praise & recognition and correction & discipline

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