Accountability is a fundamental practice and habit of great leadership and positive wellbeing. Accountability is a courageous choice.
I've been reflecting on conversations I've had about leadership and wellbeing over the last year and this is a common theme that has emerged.
When I've talked about courage and vulnerability in leadership, accountability has come up. When I've talked about personal wellbeing and Conscious Personal Leadership , accountability has come up. A range of understanding about what it is and what it looks like in practice has come up so I thought I'd share my thoughts that have drawn on my personal experience and what I've heard and learned from others.
What is accountability? Well, here's one definition I found when I Googled:
Accountability is the acceptance of responsibility for one's own actions. It implies a willingness to be transparent.
Usually, when we talk about accountability, we are assuming an accountability for something or accountability to someone.
As a leader, practicing the superpower of accountability, of owning our actions and their impacts, builds trust with those we are leading and creates an environment where they can be accountable for their actions and their impacts. It empowers them to take risks, be innovative, be curious and challenge the status quo. A lack of accountability by a leader does the exact opposite. How would you prefer to be as a leader? Which would you prefer to see in a leader?
From a personal wellbeing perspective, a commitment to personal accountability is commitment to growth and learning and contributes a more resilient and flourishing person.
As I've reflected on this, I've decided that while being accountable is obviously the opposite to NOT being accountable, accountability is the optimal point at the centre of continuum with two different ways of NOT being accountable at each end. I believe that choosing accountability is the courageous choice.
Choosing ignorance, choosing to be silent about something, is being complicit. Without saying or doing anything, we are choosing to accept and condone the action, the behaviour, the impact. This can apply to how we respond to someone else or how we respond to ourselves. This reminds me of the quote "the standard you walk past is the standard you accept."
Choosing punishment sits at the opposite end of the continuum. In responding to someone else, this might look like anger, abuse, the silent treatment (not the same as silent ignorance), resentment or some of form of punishment where there is no room for discussion or curiosity. There's plenty of 'noise', the opposite of silence, but not really any curiosity or conversation. In responding to ourselves, this might feel and sound like negative self-talk, a lack of self-compassion and we might even be thinking that this is accountability. But it's not.
I believe choosing ignorance and punishment, even though at opposite ends of the continuum, are both rooted in fear and when responding to ourselves, self-protection. It might be fear of addressing what's really happening, fear of what others might think about us or say about us, fear of what we think about ourselves, fear of what we might lose. When it comes to self-protection, the ignorance part seems a little more obvious, but self-punishment is a form of self-protection. I might be thinking that if I punish myself enough by speaking to myself in this way and treating myself this way, then the words and actions of someone else cannot hurt me as much, therefore I am protecting myself. This might not sound rational...but often our thinking is not!
Choosing accountability is the courageous choice and not necessarily the easiest one...that's why it's the courageous one. It takes courage to admit that I have made a mistake, it takes courage to be open, curious, compassionate and non-judgmental when I don't agree with something someone has said or done, it takes courage to practice self-compassion. It takes courage to practice all these as aspects of accountability.
But why should we bother if it's that hard? Why is it worth being accountable and being courageous? Because that's where learning happens, that's where growth happens, that's where change happens. What is the outcome we want?
A greater willingness within ourselves, across our workplaces and communities to have the courage to try and to practice being accountable and holding others accountable will result in healthier, more inclusive, more equitable communities and workplaces, therefore healthier individuals and better performing businesses and organisations.
Where are opportunities for you to be courageous and practice accountability in your life? At work? At home? In your community? Within yourself?