The Challenge of Low Accountability

I don’t like to place blame. I’m not a big fan of finding fault. I am however a huge fan of assigning responsibility and holding people accountable for their actions and decisions.

 

For those of you who believe there is no difference between placing blame and assigning responsibility let me share with you what the difference actually is. 

 

Assigning responsibility and accountability has to do with being answerable. It means your actions and their results will be measured objectively. Most people are willing to accept responsibility when they realize it comes with the opportunity to improve.  

 

To place blame is not only to be held responsible but to find fault. Blame assumes there will be a penalty, whether implicit or tacit. When someone in a leadership role assigns blame their actions usually stop there. The “blamed” individual awaits the punishment they are certain is coming their way. 

 

Authentic Leaders will hold their people accountable for outcomes without automatically placing blame. Accountability helps people grow. Whether they like it or not accountability motivates people to improve. Accountability actually leads to empowerment. Once an Authentic Leader holds someone accountable they follow up with coaching and offers of help. I can think of no downside to accountability. 

 

Placing blame on the other hand is one of the most demotivating actions a leader can take. Blame leads to disempowerment. It causes shame and a feeling of defeat. It is demoralizing. Blaming someone slows their development. There is no upside to blaming someone.

 

When something goes wrong in your organization do you think of terms of holding people accountable or do you look for someone to blame? It’s an important question because accountability will help your people grow while blame will stymie their development. 

 

This is somewhat a generalization but when the level of blame within an organization is high the level of accountability is usually low. 

 

Low accountability in an organization leads to a high level of chaos. Low accountability leads to low profitability and higher turnover. Low accountability leads to disengaged employees uninterested in improvement. Low accountability eventually leads to no need for accountability because there is nothing left to be accountable for. There is not an organization in existence today that can afford low accountability.


If you’re dealing with the same problems and mistakes again and again maybe the blame isn’t with your people. Maybe it’s with how you’re leading them…or not leading them. Is it time to hold yourself accountable?


Why Would Anyone Follow You?

People are pretty interesting to study. So many people from so many places, so many different cultures, backgrounds, and histories. So many differences.

 

But even in a world of differences there are some things that most everyone has in common, and one of those commonalities is that the majority of people hold others to a higher standard than they hold themselves. It’s just far easier to speak your principles than it is to live them. And that’s likely a key reason why most people are not Authentic Leaders. Authentic Leaders, the type that we would all follow, hold themselves to a higher standard than they hold others.

    

Most people have high expectations for themselves but Authentic Leaders do not merely have high expectations, they have high standards too. We may expect much of ourselves but we too often also provide ourselves with many excuses that Authentic Leaders simply don’t need. Authentic Leaders don’t make excuses, they make commitments to excellence.

 

Authentic Leaders are led by their core values and one of those core values is almost always to make certain that their actions match their words. They do what they say they will when they say they will do it. That makes them very easy to trust. 

     

Authentic Leaders know that people tend to “follow up”, that is they follow people they respect and trust or they follow someone they believe sets an example of the type of person they would like to become.  

 

People seldom “follow down”, they don’t follow people that they would not want to be like or people that they cannot trust or respect. When someone with a leadership title or in a position of leadership holds themselves to lower standards than they hold others they lose the trust of their people and they lose the ability to truly lead.

     

Here’s a few important questions for you: Why would anyone follow you?  Do you expect more from others than you expect from yourself? Do you hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself? Do you allow yourself excuses that you would not allow others? Are the majority of your mistakes “excusable” but not the mistakes of others?

    

In order to properly answer those questions you must be completely honest with yourself because if you can’t be honest with yourself you most certainly won’t be honest with anyone else.

     

Excellent, experienced, Authentic Leaders pause from time to time to ask themselves those very questions. They will also ask their mentors and accountability partners. If they don’t like the answers, they take immediate steps to change them.

 

A truly Authentic Leader has no other choice.


Is Anyone Responsible?

I read with amazement (but not surprise) recently the story of a young woman in Atlanta who had blown through the $90.000 inheritance that her Grandparents had left her for college. She had spent it on “stuff” like clothes and shoes and a European vacation. 

The story was about her calling into a radio talk show to complain about, among others things, that her parents should have taught her how to budget. She didn’t have money for her college tuition and she was blaming her parents. 

She also complained that they were “lying” when they said they couldn’t afford to replenish her college fund; she said they had a retirement account and they could have used that. She said the whole thing was her parents fault and not hers. Her “friends” all agreed with her.

She thought she had terrible parents but that fact that her parents were letting her suffer the consequences of her actions told me she had parents who cared about her.

She also had zero responsibility for her own actions and decisions. No matter what happened to her, it was not her responsibility. Just like a ton of other people these days.

How about the school administrator who makes a racist remark and then in all seriousness says it wasn’t her, “the devil was in the house” and he made her do it. 

When a kid beats up a teacher in school we blame the kid’s “home life” or the environment where they live. We say they can’t be held responsible. 

When bad or stupid things happen we blame something called “the media,” or social media, or the Internet or most recently, a flag. We ask how could “everyone” have missed the “signs” that this person had “issues?” Why didn’t anyone get them help? 

But we seldom assign responsibility to a person.

Is personal responsibility a thing of the past?

It appears so and that is a very bad thing. I’m sorry (well not really) if this offends anybody but we’re not helping the kid who comes in last place by giving them a trophy for trying. In the real world not everyone wins. In the real world the people who perform better get better results. In the real world people who know their actions have actual consequences make better choices.

The most successful people learn from their failures. Hiding failure from people by relieving them of their responsibility does not teach them a thing. Parents who solve all of their kids problems for them will have kids who always have problems that need solving. 

Years ago when Charles Manson killed a bunch of people and wrote “Helter Skelter” on a wall we didn’t blame The Beatles because they had a song of the same name. We blamed the PERSON who did the crime. He was called a criminal, not a troubled individual who was “victimized” by a bad upbringing. We said HE was responsible, not his environment, not his parents, not is friends and certainly not the radio stations that played the song. 

Today, The Beatles would be vilified and Charlie would be getting “help.”  

There is far less accountability and personal responsibility in the world today and it’s not making the world a better place. 

It’s also not making people better. 

 

When to Hold Your People to Account

Most people preform better when they are held accountable for their effort and results. Unfortunately the term “accountability” carries with it a negative connotation. It is assumed that we hold someone “accountable” for their mistakes or actions. While that is true we can also hold people “accountable” for the things they do right.

Accountability is not about blaming or judging someone. It is absolutely not about punishing someone for a mistake or lack of effort. True accountability is about coaching. 

Accountability can fail for a variety of reasons, the most common is that for many leaders accountability is just an off the cuff hallway conversation about “doing better” or “getting on the ball.” 

Effective accountability requires a bit of planning and strategy to ensure that the “accountable person” understands what they are accountable for. 

Accountability coaching must be clear and concise. An accountability discussion must be just the facts, certainly no exaggeration should be included. The discussion must include exactly what is expected of the person being held to account. It must include exactly when it is expected as well. 

As a leader it is your responsibility to help your people succeed. If they don’t have what they need to succeed then all the coaching in the world won’t make a difference. You must ensure that they have the required training, resources and feedback required to succeed. If you can’t, or won’t, provide the tools they need to succeed then you can’t ethically hold them accountable either. 

As a leader you should remember that you are their “model” for success.If you’re trying to hold them accountable to a standard that you fail to meet you’re just wasting their time and yours. 

You cannot let your emotions disrupt the accountability discussion. The more emotion you display the more emotion the recipient of your coaching will display. When emotions become involved things tend to slide downhill quickly. Deliver your comments in a caring, empathetic way, but keep your emotions in check.

If you’re coaching for improvement then address the issue early, waiting almost always allows the issue to grow. It’s easy to just “let it go” when it’s small but ignoring problems seldom accomplishes anything. 

Above all remember to also coach for positive reinforcement. Hold people to account for the good things they do, let them know they have been “caught” performing well and that their efforts are appreciated. 

If you coach only for improvement you’re likely negatively affecting the morale of your team. They will get the feeling that they can’t do anything right and soon enough that will be the case. Accountability coaching will require an investment of time on the part of the leader but it is an incredible tool for building future leaders when it’s done well. 

 

Do it well! 

Leadership Accountability

Everyone, and I mean everyone, does better when they have accountability in their lives. When we know we will be held to account, for a budget, for a timetable, for a goal we’ve set, or for any particular outcome, we are far more likely to put serious effort into achieving that outcome.

It seems to be human nature.

But there is a problem with accountability as well. 

The problem with accountability is when you as a leader hold your people to a level of accountability to which you refuse to hold yourself. You expect more and demand more of your people than you expect and demand of yourself.

It’s pretty easy to hold other people accountable. It’s not so easy to hold ourselves as accountable as we hold everyone else. It’s FAR easier to have principles than it is to live by them. It is far easier to to require others to have the discipline that we only wish we had. 

But here is where the real problem comes in: your people will do what you do far, far faster than they will do what you say. 

When you hold your people to a standard higher than you hold yourself, you destroy their morale and you destroy your credibility. When you destroy your credibility you also destroy your ability to actually lead because people cannot follow someone that they cannot trust.

Authentic Servant Leaders do not have one set of standards for themselves and another, higher set of standards for their people. Authentic Servant Leaders know that they are the model for successful behavior and they act and talk the way they want their people to act and talk. 

They do the things required for success so their people can see success in action. 

Nothing destroys morale faster than being held to a high standard by a person with low standards. Don’t hold others accountable to a standard to which you refuse to hold yourself.  

Leadership requires that you do the same things you would have your people do and it requires that you do them first. That’s why it’s called LEADING!

Accountability can lead directly to superior outcomes when and only when the accountability starts at the top. If you as a leader are not able to hold yourself accountable then don’t expect to be able to hold others accountable either!