by Sep 10, 2018

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “accountability” as “the quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”.  In today’s world of business, accountability has become an overused buzzword, it has many interpretations… and it has lost much of its meaning. 

There are some that say we may actually be blind to the true meaning of accountability. In Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunction of a Team”, accountability is the fourth level of a five level pyramid leading to results.  He describes accountability as “The willingness of team members to call their peers on performance and behaviors that might hurt the purpose of the team”. 

Commitments or agreements (explicit or implicit) are the beginning of the path to accountability.  The process of holding someone to a level of accountability is not intended to be punitive, but rather to attain personal change in behaviors and performance. There is at times confusion over “accountability” vs. “responsibility”. The main difference between responsibility and accountability is that responsibility can be shared while accountability cannot. Being accountable not only means being responsible for something, but also ultimately being answerable for one’s actions.

While there may be an intent to hold someone accountability, in practicality only the person who has failed to fulfill a promise can hold themselves accountable. All I can do is to make that person aware (through feedback) that the person is out of integrity with an agreement or commitment they have made, including their performance and behaviors.  Second, I can assist the person with the discovery of the direct and indirect, intended and unintended consequences of the unaccountable behavior.

Individuals who are unaccountable most often have excuses and reason for their lack of integrity.  While a reason may be justified (reason = a cause, explanation or justification for an action or event I have “no control over” what happened), an excuse (excuse = an explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault, offense or situation I have “some level of control” over what happened), should not justify actions lacking integrity. Lack of accountability lead to lack of trust.  Lack of trust leads to inter-personal disconnect.  And, in an organization, the condition of disconnect and a culture of distrust leads to mediocrity versus excellence, lesser results versus successful outcomes, low morale versus job excitement and engagement, stagnation versus production, unimagination versus creativity, etc. In weak teams there is no accountability.  

In mediocre teams, the bosses are the source of accountability.  And, in high performance teams, “peers” manage the vast majority of performance and behaviors problems with one another in a collaborative effort to elevate the performance of everyone on the team though collaborative accountability… calling each other out in a constructive, non-personal way.  In Vistage we call this “carefrontation”… confronting from a caring place.

Behavioral transformation comes from the awareness that a person is out of integrity with an agreement, that they are aware of the direct and indirect, intended and untended consequences, and that in the purest sense they want, intend and choose to have personal relationships of trust, which can only come about by proving that they can stay in integrity with their commitments.

Accountability is simply the vulnerability process to attain trust and strong interpersonal relationships.  There are processes procedures, tips and trick, best practices and behavioral assessments that can be used to strengthen a culture of accountability. As Stephen Covey once said, “Accountability breeds response-ability”.

Peer Executive Boards is a home of a culture of accountability.  Sharing this interpretation and investing the time and energy to create such a culture will lead to greater success, greater performance, greater results, and greater trust!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This