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How to be Accountable and Hold Others to it

How to be Accountable and Hold Others to it

Dan McCarthy | Great Leadership

May 07, 2010

This is a story of four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.
Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.
It ended that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

- Unknown

Does this sound familiar? What kind of workplace situation does this remind you of?

The topic of accountability has been such a hot topic for the last decade, it’s almost turned into just another corporate buzzword. However, for some reason, the word still seems to be a lightning rod when it comes to leadership development.

It’s a word with a lot of arms and legs. It’s often used to describe:

- a personal value (someone who is accountable)

- something you do to others (hold them accountable)

- and something that an organizational entity should be or isn’t (e.g., there’s no accountability in government).

For leaders, accountability starts with looking in the mirror. Being accountable is our ticket to earning the right to hold others accountable.

When someone else screws up, we tend to blame it on their personal characteristics. However, when we screw up, we tend to blame it on external circumstances. It’s a cognitive bias social psychologists call “fundamental attribution”. Neither serve us or others well as leaders.

What does it mean to be accountable as a leader? Let’s just say I know it when I hear it. It sounds something like this:

- “I made a mistake”
- “I screwed up”
- “That’s on me, and no one else”
- “No excuses”
- “I’ll do it – it’s mine”
- “I got it”
- “I’m already on it, it’ll get taken care of”
- “I’ll make sure everyone gets regular status reports”

I also know what it doesn’t sound like… it doesn’t sound like:

- Whining
- Finger pointing
- Blaming
- “I’ll try”, “maybe”, “I’ll do my best”
- Excuses, excuses, and more excuses
- A victim
- Insincere, rehearsed, b.s. apologies

Next: What Can Leaders Do?

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