The Self-Accountability Crisis© (adapted from Unmask: Let Go of Who You’re “Supposed” to Be & Unleash Your True Leader)

Accountability is an often misunderstood and misinterpreted concept that must be clarified for the sake of leadership and business. This same sense of urgency applies to your personal self-leadership, which has the most impact on what you do, how you do it and what you create. One of the most fundamental misconceptions about accountability is that it relates to getting people to do things. In other words, you tell people what they need to do or should do and, if/when they don’t do it, then you hold them accountable by delivering consequences. While consequences (of some form) may sometimes change behavior, the best way to sustainably change behavior and be effective in execution is to model and support others in being self-accountable even (and especially) when no one is holding you accountable.

One critical element of integrating accountability in business and culture is to clarify what it means to be accountable and debunk the ways we create easy outs from accountability. Indeed, our failure (or unwillingness) to equate lack of accountability with lack of integrity is one of the primary causes for our existing accountability crisis.

When you embrace the reality that being out of accountability means that you are out of integrity and therefore understand that choosing to honor your commitments (and thus be accountable) is the primary means for you to be in integrity, you will find the motivation you need to do whatever it takes to stay in integrity. Another positive outcome is that you will be more focused and intentional in making commitments, assessing your priorities and being clear about what it means to do whatever it takes.

Imagine the impact in our businesses, communities and lives if we created a culture of accountability, integrity and personal responsibility. Talk about a game-changing shift in thinking and doing! This is precisely why self-accountability is such a core trait (and indeed a commitment itself) for conscious leaders. Before we take the deeper dive into accountability, one foundational premise must be addressed: Accountability is ALWAYS a matter of self-accountability, not accountability to others. Lack of awareness and understanding about this fundamental truth is the most critical obstacle to creating greater accountability in all areas of your life.

Yes, we often use the phrase that others will “hold us accountable,” but the reality is that we are accountable to ourselves based upon the commitments that we make to others. I may make a commitment to someone else, but I am accountable to myself. It is my personal integrity that is on the line when I make commitments. While other people may deem me to be lacking in integrity when I fail to honor commitments that I make, it is MY integrity that is at issue. Therefore, accountability is always a matter of self-accountability. While other people can support me in being accountable, if I am relying on other people to help me stay in accountability (if they are doing it all for me or taking on the responsibility to remind me), then I am not truly and fully committing, and I am not accountable.

For this reason, I and other conscious leaders speak in terms of asking for support with our commitments rather than abdicating the commitments and the accountability. Think about a common example of abdicating your personal accountability. You have made a commitment, but you ask someone else to remind you to do it. This certainly helps to make sure that you get it done and done on time because even if you forget, someone else is helping you to remember; however, who in this case is accountable? You made the commitment, but you are relying on someone else to remind you to do it. You have essentially asked another person to make a commitment to you so that you can honor your commitment. I am NOT suggesting that you should be on your own in honoring your stated commitments, and you absolutely can and should seek out support from others, but the key question is whether you are getting support or giving up responsibility for your own commitments.

If self-accountability is the opposite of blaming others, then what happens when you ask someone to help you stay in accountability with your commitments? The answer is that you have created a situation where you can now blame someone else for your own failure to honor the commitment. This is the differentiator between accountable, conscious leaders and unaccountable, unconscious leaders.

One reason that organizations do not do well with accountability is that they are attempting to create an accountability culture based upon holding others accountable rather than based upon personal integrity and self-accountability. Instead of relying on other people to hold you accountable or help you remember to do what you said you would do, try seeking support from others in being self-accountable (the conscious leader way).

Here is an example of the difference between getting help (abdicating) and getting support in a situation where you have agreed to complete a written report by 5:00 p.m. one week from today. Let’s consider two different approaches:

Abdicating Accountability:  “Can you touch base with me on Thursday to make sure that I’m on track to have the report done by Monday at 5:00?

Support for Self-Accountability:  “Can I touch base with you on Thursday to check in on my progress towards having the report done by Monday at 5:00 p.m.?

See the difference? Both involve getting help with your commitment, but the first sets you up to blame someone else (even if unconsciously), while the second gives you support to stay in personal integrity by honoring your commitment.

Yes, we have an accountability crisis, but the real crisis is our individual and collective lack of self-accountability. While there are many different ways to improve your self-accountability (the subject of other and future articles), the core is a choice – a conscious and intentional choice to be self-accountable in all areas of your life and leadership.

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  1. […] having someone call me at 6 a.m. this morning to make sure I was out of bed. Then I read my friend Jeff’s blog post yesterday on self-accountability.  UGH!  I felt like I got ran over by a […]

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