as published in Conway Daily Sun
It depends on whom you ask. In many meetings, accountability is one of the most popular topics among managers and staff. Everyone seems to agree that we need more accountability. I ask what would that look like? Silence. Who needs to be more accountable? To whom? For what? These answers seldom come easily. When we move the conversation from a group setting to a private meeting, sharing seems to be more forthcoming. We’ll need to discuss the challenge of honest sharing as a separate issue. As for accountability, it seems most people who say we need more accountability, mean that other people need to be more accountable, not us. It seems most of us want other people to be better at delivering what they promise. We want other people to be on time, behave the way we expect them to, and act in accordance with our perceptions and definition of “ideal”.
Do we want to be held accountable ourselves? Yes. Overwhelmingly, conscientious people expect to be held accountable, and we seem to think that we are. We think we keep our promises and we behave in accordance with expected standards, at least as we understand them. So are we talking about ourselves or other people when we say we need more accountability in our organization? We may think we are talking about everyone including ourselves, but in reality, it seems we are only talking about others. Go ahead, and give yourself a moment to argue with that last point. Evidence suggests that while we think we include ourselves in this conversation, the reality is we do not.
We expect to be held accountable to our own standards and we want others to also be accountable to our standards. We foolishly assume that our standards are correct. Other people feel the same way – they want to be held accountable to their standard. The challenge is that our perceptions get in the way. We often are not envisioning an objective set of standards. We believe our subjective standard to be common sense, basic and infallible. Our perception seems to be that the basics are so fundamental that surely all functioning, reasonably intelligent, working people know what we mean when we talk about work ethics, code of conduct, respect, teamwork, communications, and accountability. I spend much of my work life moving through these conversations in group and individual conversations. I promise you that we all take turns causing grief not so much with our perceptions and paradigms, but with our assumption that our perceptions and paradigms are correct. If you agree we need more accountability, ask yourself, what that would mean to you and how could you be more accountable to yourself and others.
The first person we need to be honest with and keep promises too is ourselves. Do you regularly break promises to yourself? Did you promise to get more sleep? Eat better? Stand up for yourself? Go home on time? Get better at a skill or habit? How often and how well does that work out? Do you say yes to others in an effort to please them and then disappoint in the long run? If you have a pattern of over-promising to others, you either disappoint them because you can’t deliver the promise, or you disappoint yourself because you sacrifice your own needs by giving away too much of yourself to please others. By the way, this is rarely appreciated by others. Most people would prefer a more assertive truth than an empty promise, or a promise that takes more from you than it should.
After being more honest with ourselves, can we be more honest with others? Do we know what others really want from us and what they would want us to be more accountable for? I recently did an exercise with several friends and colleagues, asking for feedback. I invite you to consider doing this exercise. Via email, I asked people to name three strengths they think I’m brilliant at. Then, three things they perceive are weaknesses of mine that could keep me from reaching my goals. This could make many of us uncomfortable as recipients or providers of such feedback. The promise is that we will appreciate honest and helpful feedback and we will be grateful that someone cares enough to share their thoughts with us. I received invaluable feedback! What others think of us is often very different than we think of ourselves. I think we would do well to look in the mirror with some love and compassion and honesty, and then look into one another’s eyes with similar love, compassion and honesty.
Accountability is not just about everyone carrying their fair share of work, or keeping promises. It also aligns with the topics of sincerity, integrity and honesty. Each of these virtues can rise and fall in our daily lives unbeknownst to us. We so often don’t practice what we preach even when we think we do. Let us tackle that in another article. For now, if you want more accountability, begin by asking specifically for what you need. Ask others specifically what they need from you. Let us begin with being accountable for our role in that conversation first.