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Senior Correspondent

The Art of Accountability

The Art of Accountability


Accountability, in traditional environments, is about power. Who has it? How is it used? The teeth of traditional accountability is the power to reward and punish. Short-sighted leaders use accountability to pressure people. The context of pressure is resistance. Dependence on this traditional accountability method suggests people are already resistant.  

Useful accountability:

Accountability is drawing out the best in others.

1. Help people excel at what they want to do, not what you’re pressuring them to do. People need new jobs when the things they want nolonger serve organizational goals.

2. Expect people to do what they say. Hold people accountable to the commitments they impose on themselves, not the ones you impose on them.

3. Focus on their power, not yours, when creating accountability. Powerful people go further than powerless.

4. Honor follow-through.

5. Call out inconsistency. Mediocrity prevails when inconsistency wins the day.

6. Discuss how people depend on each other.

7. Clarify expectations. Ambiguity is the enemy of accountability.

Seven simple ways to create accountability:

1. Set deadlines.

2. Give reports and schedule check-ins.

3. Ask, “How is your project going?”

4. Ask, “What would you like me to ask the next time we meet?”

5. Ask, “What are you going to do next, today, this week?”

6. Ask, “When are you taking your next step?”

Four essentials for healthy accountability:

1. Shared passion, to maximize talent.

2. Shift from external coercion to internal drive.

3. Respect for success.

4. Consequences for failure. One consequence, for example, might be to responsibilities.

A point of discomfort:

I’m troubled by reliance on promises and commitments. Reliance on promises suggests this time you really mean it, when before you didn’t. Accountability is about clarifying results and behaviors, not making promises.


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