Who is Accountable?

There has been a lot of talk about “Accountability” in society and in organizations for the past twenty years. In my clients’ companies, leaders and staff often lament over the lack of accountability in their organizations.

So, it seems that something is amiss. But what is it?

I’ve never encountered a vexing problem that was rooted in a single cause, so I won’t pretend to have a simple explanation. I am confidant however that I have eyes to see that many people are operating under a gross misunderstanding of “accountability.”  People talk of “holding others accountable,” but no one, except for God, can hold a person accountable. Rather, people voluntarily submit to accountability. That begs the question:

Who would voluntarily submit to you and under what circumstances?

Hidden within most conversations about accountability is the question of “who has the power to “hold a person accountable?” Most people look to the formal authorities as the keeper of accountability, but relying on the “authorities” is a sign of failure in the community and especially so in the workplace.

High performing teams are flooded with communication about their team and individual performance. Great teams seek feedback from their customers and stakeholders. But that is not all; they are busy giving each other feedback.  Team members hold each other accountable to standards they have all committed to.  People on these teams submit to accountability based on a trusty foundation built from:

  • Credibility: The person giving feedback is a position to speak knowledgeably.
  • Commitment to a common goal:  A strong desire to accomplish the very same thing.
  • Interdependence: The clear belief that they need each other to reach their goal.
  • Love: People submit to accountability when they see that the other person both knows them and cares for them.

Lack in any of these areas makes submitting to others risky.

Perhaps this explains the dearth of accountability that we experience. We don’t need formal authority to “enforce authority.” Instead, we need to clarify our common goals and pursue loving relationship with our neighbors and teammates. Under those conditions, the people around us will certainly be credible witnesses to our triumphs, our failures, and everything between.

Rather than lamenting about the absence of accountability, would should instead build relationships that invite it.

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