By Lee Ellis
The plane had drifted off course by 200 miles, but the pilot didn’t know how it got there! He started out with the proper heading and course, and began the journey confident that he was ready to fly. Now he’s thinking, “If only I had a co-pilot or voice guidance system alerting me along the way, I would’ve saved a lot of time and fuel (money).”
For many leaders, this scenario makes perfect sense, yet the need for an accountability culture at work is not always accepted. We want the positive elements of success—achievement, notoriety, money, and excellence for clients and customers. But we’re unwilling to do the right things to get there.
Fearing the Accountability Solution
Our society seems to be somewhat schizophrenic about accountability. We hear passionate complaints about the lack of accountability across the spectrum—from the government, politics, education, and business to finance, religion, and the media. At the same time, when it comes to being on the receiving end, accountability seems to have earned a bad image. It seems so negative and often equated with frustration and injustice, even punishment.
So in one way we want accountability, generally. But in another way we fear and reject it, personally.
The Positive Accountability Strategy
So even though almost everyone would agree that accountability is not only a good thing—but an obvious necessity in most areas of life—it’s also seen as difficult and dreaded. Before looking at the many positive benefits of courageous accountability, let’s examine this paradox a bit further. I think we can reconcile the underlying psychology and philosophies that bring these strong opposing feelings about this powerful word—accountability.
6 Obstacles to Courageous Accountability
Reflect on these 6 obstacles to accountability, and see if you can identify your weak spots –
Pride – This is the kind of unhealthy pride, also known as “hubris” that allows us to inappropriately elevate ourselves above others. Because of an inflated ego, we may think that we’re “special” and the rules don’t apply to us.
Fear – There are a multitude of doubts and fears that can cause “normal” people to want to avoid accountability. Fear of failure—I may not be able to come through. Fear of making a mistake, fear of not measuring up, fear it will be too hard, or too risky. There is also fear of losing control.
Laziness – We all have to overcome our natural tendency toward laziness. Scientists now know that our brains are wired to choose the easy way out—it’s called habit. The downside to habits and mindsets is that wisdom is not always included.
Lack of Experience, Knowledge, and Planning – Some people just don’t know how to step out and follow through and are hesitant to be accountable or hold others accountable. Perhaps they’ve not seen a good role model for accountability.
Busyness – Related to laziness and inertia, busyness usually consumes us when we’re not living by priorities. We have busy schedules and it’s easy to procrastinate.
Negativity – If this is your challenge, you are paying a high cost. Emotions are highly contagious and negative ones zap energy and undermine teamwork. Begin by reflecting on your attitude to discern the energy that is driving your negativity.
The Truth Cannot Be Ignored
A wise person once said that people will continue to follow their old ways until they decide there’s a greater payoff by changing to a different behavior. Certainly there is a lot of truth in that statement.
Just like the pilot who unintentionally got off-course, honorable leaders realize that courageously embracing accountability is the best long-term strategy for getting results and developing healthy relationships that can serve as the watchdogs in your life. I like this quote from, The Oz Principle, a great book by Connors, Smith, and Hickman[i]. In their third principle of accountability, they tell it straight. Listen to what these experts say –
“When the people you count on fail to follow through and deliver on expectations, there’s only one thing to do—apply the third and final principle, the Accountability Truth. True accountability begins by looking at yourself, by holding yourself accountable. The truth is, when things go wrong, there is usually something wrong with what “I” am doing. When you embrace this principle, you harness future outcomes and strengthen your ability to hold others accountable.”