Redefining Accountability in the Workplace

The chances are good that if you’re reading this, your organization’s definition of accountability could probably use an upgrade. Accountability is one of the most talked about, yet most misunderstood concepts in leadership today. Too many organizations are still measuring and monitoring performance, but the problem is performance is not a good predictor of success. Accountability is.

Cy Wakeman
Mar 26, 2017 · 3 min read
Cy Wakeman at work in Elkhorn, NE

At Reality-Based Leadership, we’ve studied accountability a ton. We know it is the key differentiator that modern leaders need to pay attention to. It’s something that needs to be measured, rewarded, developed, and driven inside your organization, and it really is the driver of success.

So, what is accountability?

Accountability is death to the ego. It’s about one’s belief as to whether or not they can have impact over their own outcomes and results.

Accountability is not a skillset, it’s a mindset.

It’s a way of seeing the world. It’s a way of thinking. It’s the ability to use great mental processes and eliminate emotional waste. It’s a really skillful way to move throughout the work world.

As Kelli Hinshaw, our VP of Strategic Development at Reality-Based Leadership put it:

“I think all too often we think that accountability is something that we do to someone or it’s a place of ownership. It’s more of a mindset that I’m looking for. And so when I think of the people I’ve worked with or I’ve led who are highly accountable, I think of people who step up. They say, ‘You know what? I may not know how to do that, but I can move beyond that fear. I’m willing to try. I’m all in. I’ll step up.”

Accountability as we know it really has 4 factors:

  1. Commitment
  2. Resilience
  3. Ownership
  4. Continuous learning

The first factor is commitment: the willingness to do whatever it takes. We need to teach leaders that they can’t buy somebody in. They can only ask, “Are you in or are you out? What’s your level of willingness?”

The second part of accountability is resilience: the ability to stay in.

Ownership is not what accountability’s really about. It’s a bit of an afterthought. If I was committed and all in and I really worked hard to be resilient, ownership doesn’t hurt. I want to know more. It’s simply a healthy sense of guilt and a healthy sense of pride. It’s looking at what I did that helped or hindered because I want to learn.

And the final factor of accountability is continuous learning: mining our successes and failures for where we can grow next so that we can commit to bigger things. It’s not something leaders can do for others but leaders can develop others in accountability.

This new definition of accountability is probably different than what you’re used to hearing. Here’s your challenge: don’t take my word for it. Take some of these tips and try ’em for yourself, and let us know what you’re learning.

For more on accountability and leadership, follow along with me on YouTube.

Cy Wakeman

Written by

Drama Researcher, International Speaker, NY Times Best Selling Author, Expert Blogger and mom of 8 boys. Life’s Messy, Live Happy.

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