There’s a reason we want wrongs to be made right – why we want to make sure justice is met when crimes or offenses are made against ourselves or others. Accountability matters and it is important to everyone who is interested in fairness.
We’re all too familiar with current challenges to the practice of accountability. On the one hand, there’s the demand that there be more of it. On the other hand, in more extreme cases, there’s demand for some for it where there has been none. We know the long history of the absence of corporate accountability, which includes the Enron debacle, the ExxonMobil Valdez and the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, and the Volkswagen emissions shenanigans. More recently there’s been account fraud at Wells Fargo, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook scandals, and Boeing 737 MAX crashes. These and other examples like them stand out among circumstances in which there is constant clamoring for people and organizations to take responsibility for their choices, words, and actions. The very scale and depth of many of these issues can make accountability seem exhausting, frustrating, time-consuming, and even impossible. However, being accountable is exactly the right rallying cry for when we’ve all had enough.
It is disappointing when we feel let down in what we expect from our leaders, peacekeepers, legislators, schools, workplaces, and—for some—our families, neighbors, and friends. Intuitively, we know that we need more accountability, that it is important, and that there has never been a more appropriate time for developing and enforcing it.
While we may not find ourselves in a situation as dire as Enron or other high-profile scandals, a lack of accountability in our personal and professional lives erodes our individual and collective ability to meet our potential. Whenever people work together for any reason, accountability is either a stated or assumed part of the deal, a tenet of the job, and the basis of any genuinely mutual agreement. Some of us do it well, and some of us don’t; however, we can all do better.
The fact is you can repeatedly find accountability to be an essential ingredient and a foundational driver of organizational success. Engagement in and of itself is not a strategy. It’s an outcome. It’s what you get when you already have accountability for performance. Engagement is what you get when management actually gets better at doing accountability well and consistently.
Not only does developing accountability skills within an organization dramatically enhance communication; doing so also develops skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, feedback, and relationship building. And accountability skills are transferable insofar as you can utilize those skills across functions throughout a career. These skills are applicable at every level of management, from frontline to C-suite, and in every direction, including down-line to employees, across from peer to peer, and up-line to senior managers and leaders.
So why does accountability matter? It matters to organizations, but more importantly, it should matter to you because it’s a clear indicator of how you show up. The answer really comes down to this – it’s a character-defining practice that touches everything. It’s a character-defining practice that shapes workplace cultures, family dynamics, and every single relationship you have. Do what is necessary to commit to a greater level of accountability and seek to establish that in the teams you lead.
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