Leaders, true leaders, assume responsibility while others are making excuses. Leadership, to be effective, requires a high level of personal responsibility and true systemic accountability. The essence of accountability is not to be found in “controlling” others or in trying to coerce behavior from them. In fact, coercion and force drive a higher level of CYA (cover your ass-ets) and minimizes accountability. In the organizations and with the teams and leaders with whom I have been privileged to work, whenever we have directly addressed and removed old vestiges of “blame and shame,” as well as micro-management and over-control, we have increased accountability levels and driven higher levels of performance. To increase accountability and performance levels requires taking a systematic approach. “Systemic Accountability” as I have termed it consists of 4 broad aspects or drivers.
The first driver of true accountability is that of focusing on a “solution-focused” mind-set. By “solution-focused” I mean that everyone is coached in not only identifying problems, gaps and issues, but they are also invited to bring forward ideas and possible solutions. After all, critics are plentiful; true change agents and problem-solvers are much rarer.
The second driver of accountability is a “mistake-positive” approach that is focused on a “lessons learned” orientation when mistakes do occur. Mistakes do occur in life, in team, departments and organizations. The challenge is to take a mistake, learn from it and transfer the lessons learned so that we “fail forward” versus falling backwards. This means no-blame, no-shame when mistakes are surfaced. Instead the focus in on how to address it effectively and to actively learn from it to advance the agenda of the enterprise.
A third key driver of true accountability is that of focusing on the power of language. To create a systemic accountability approach leaders and team members need to learn to stop asking “Why did you?” and “Who did this?” and instead focus on “What happened?” and “How did this occur?” Simply by moving off of “why” and “who” questions and instead focusing on “what” and “how” we are creating the environment for greater personal, team and group accountability. For example: “What happened here?” “What did we want to have happen?” “What went wrong with our process, our approach?” “How will we address it best?” “What have we learned?” “How will we apply that lesson to prevent future issues and to create better outcomes?” “What do you need from me to help address this?” “How can I best support you?” are wonderful ways of learning and growing.
Finally, to create systemic accountability, leaders needs to serve as role models for taking responsibility by demonstrating the ability to listen non-defensively to critical input. Then, to lock it in, the leader needs to use the “what” and “how” questions to seek to understand the criticism and to turn it into usable information and guidance.
Are you creating true accountability in a systemic way in your life, team and organization?