I just completed a six-session leadership development series with a client, and at the end we discussed the most glaring opportunity for improving their performance and results.
One idea stood out as the most critical from a list of really important topics such as leading change, building a culture, continuous improvement, resource allocation, and building the team.
That idea was accountability – both for them and their teams.
When the truth finally comes out, we know what to do and we have the basic tools we need to do it. The difference between excellence and mediocrity for most of us comes down to accountability.
Accountability and the execution that accompanies it explain why the smartest or most talented people don’t always experience the greatest levels of success. If accountability didn’t matter, the company with the best product or service would dominate the marketplace. And, every government agency would deliver amazing value.
Talent, time, experience, and resources do matter. As we enter the 2012 Summer Olympics, the country of Monaco is a safe bet to continue its string of 26 Olympiads (both summer and winter) without winning a single medal.
So if you are the USA Men’s Basketball Team competing against Monaco go ahead and take the day off from accountability. I am guessing that you will survive.
But that’s not your reality. You don’t hire all the smart people while your competitors hire dunces. You aren’t running the most up-to-date computer systems while your competitors are using Commodore 64’s. Accountability is – more times than not – the difference between achieving your goals and getting beat in the marketplace.
What Does Accountability Look Like
Accountability is like pornography. You know it when you see it, and you know it when you don’t. The absence of accountability can usually be seen in variations of these three behaviors:
1. Blaming others and pointing fingers. Are people regularly thrown under the bus by managers and colleagues? Are you blaming the economy, the competition, or some other outside factor for the lack of your success? Is your failure to deliver results always someone else’s fault? If so, there is an impending accountability crisis.
2. Assuming that others are responsible. Do people in your organization wait to be told what to do, or do they take action when they see something that needs to be done? Are the choruses of “it’s not my job” becoming your theme song? Do your managers demand that people check their brains at the door or punish initiative? If so, there is an impending accountability crisis.
3. Failure to tell or recognize the truth. Are messengers shot? Is the organization crumbling at its foundation while everyone celebrates a faux accomplishment? Do you believe that there are no opportunities for improvement or there is no need to change anything? If so, there is an impending accountability crisis.
Accountability is About Ownership
The requirements for accountability are always the same for individuals, teams, or entire organizations:
- • Own the values and vision: You don’t own your values until you follow them when it would be easier not to do so. You own your vision when you refuse to be distracted by short-term opportunities that do not contribute to your long-term goal.
• Own the situation: You see it – you own it. If a customer is complaining, you own that situation even if you didn’t create the problem. If you aren’t where you want to be on a personal level, you own that, too. You are where you have earned the right to be.
• Own the response and solution: You can’t always control the circumstance, but you can own your response to the situation and responsibility for finding a solution. Don’t blame or pass it off to others. It is your responsibility.
• Own the result: Good or bad, the results you deliver are the results you own. Taking responsibility when things go wrong is only one piece of it. Owning the achievement when the results are positive is equally important.
If the ideas presented here sound familiar, it is because I’ve said them in some variation before. But when it comes to accountability, you can’t say them enough. The failure to master accountability places us on the path to mediocrity and worse – irrelevance