I read this statement from Doug Smith some time ago and it really provoked my thinking. “Who in your world can tell you no? You better find them and listen to them – they can save you from a world of pain.”
In this article, we will discuss the subject of accountability by defining it first and exploring the benefits of being accountable. We will also ponder over the reasons for the lack of accountability and finally conclude with how a leader can become accountable.
Accountability is defined by Wikipedia as answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving. It continues by saying “A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct.”
In his book, “The Man in the Mirror”, Patrick Morley defines accountability as “to be regularly answerable to qualified people for each of the key areas of our lives.” He underlines that the best way to handle accountability is personal accountability.
Personal Accountability is viewed by the management consultant Todd Herman as “being willing to answer for the outcomes resulting from your choices, behaviours, and actions.” When you are personally accountable, you take ownership of situations that you’re involved in.”
Having defined it, let us discuss some of its benefits.
Benefits of Accountability
“Anyone holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody,” affirms Thomas Paire.
Accountability promotes trust which is a fundamental glue that binds people. People who have developed personal accountability are willing to do the right thing and to stay true to themselves even when it does not favour them. Moliere said: “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” Patrick Morley in his book shared that, “A friend passed along some advice for the man who runs his own business. Pick a man in your organization who is secure in his position. Then give him the authority to come to you any time he feels you are getting off track, close your door, and tell you what’s in his mind.”
Accountability enhances ownership and confidence. A person who is accountable is willing to answer for his actions and will not shift the blame to other people. Martin Luther King says it poignantly: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
The example of a code of ethics called The Honour System in one of the private universities in Ghana, Ashesi University, is worth emulating. Ashesi University provides an avenue for students to practice doing the right thing even when no one is watching. In other words, they develop a habit of honourable behaviour and high esteem of personal accountability that are internally driven (Examination Honour Code – Ashesi University).
Personal accountability promotes reliability and helps people to live their values and to be able to regulate themselves effectively. This contributes to improving their emotional intelligence. Deborah Lee put it best: “Self-accountability is who you are when no one is looking”
Reasons Why Many Are Not Accountable
Like an iceberg, the beautiful part of our lives is the ten (10) per cent of what we let people see. What is below the surface, however, is where we live most of our real lives – lives often hidden from the scrutiny of others. Unfortunately, what is unseen and not carefully examined can sink us when we are unaccountable in areas of our lives according to Patrick Morley.
According to the book of Proverbs, “wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
Patrick Morley goes on to state that maintaining accountability relationships can be one of the hardest things a leader can do because of the following reasons:
- Self-dependency: We have been our own bosses for a long time, and we do not want to answer to anyone.
- Privacy: We do not want anyone intruding into our privacy or private lives.
- We are not sure what accountability is and how to be accountable.
- The hard questions: “How? Why? What? and Who?”
- The problem of personal vulnerability: The price of an effective accountability relationship is personal vulnerability. We must be willing to reveal the parts of our lives that are hidden below the surface and to be transparent.
How Can a Leader be Accountable?
Below are two main questions any leader should consider answering honestly:
- Has anyone ever asked you to hold them accountable for an area of their life?
- Have you ever asked anyone to hold you accountable for an area of your life?
If your answer to these questions is no, you need to realize your need for someone to whom you can be answerable – to give an accurate report to – about how you are progressing in different areas of your life. We need people in our lives who can challenge us to live up to the standards we have set for ourselves.
Accountability can cover different areas including family, social, physical, intellectual, career, spiritual, areas of personal struggle and moral and ethical behaviour.
To choose an accountability partner, it is suggested to choose
- someone who wants to see you succeed
- someone who has a sense of a need for accountability
- someone who has skill and wisdom
- someone you respect
- someone you feel compatible with
- someone whose judgement you trust and
- someone who respects the confidentiality (trust) of the relationship: this aspect needs to be discussed with your accountability partner
After choosing that accountability partner, get started on the meeting by defining how regularly, the structure to follow and decide to be “brutally honest with yourself and with each other.” This will require personal vulnerability, commitment, and consistency from both parties.
In conclusion, accountability requires hard work, commitment, and lots of patience. The payoff, though, is worth the price for “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”