The Three Axioms Of Accountability

Article | Accountability Insights

by | Aug 5, 2009

When expectations go unmet and someone has failed to deliver, how often do you assume that that they have failed to follow through because something is wrong with them? This is what we call the Accountability Fallacy, the first of the three accountability axioms that form the underpinning of any real shift to true accountability in an organization or team. The Fallacy, a mistaken belief based upon an unsound argument, is that it is most probable we have been as effective as we should be at establishing our accountability expectations with others in a way that optimizes success. When people fall prey to the Account¬ability Fallacy, they not only assume that others are flawed, but that they themselves can do little or nothing to change those flaws except to punish people when they make mistakes or fail to deliver.

The second axiom of accountability, key to holding people accountable the positive, principle way, is the Accountability Assumption, which counsels that, in any given circumstance, you should always begin with the assumption that people are doing their very best to fulfill your expectations. This assumption allows you to approach the process of holding others accountable with the view that people want things to succeed just as much as you do and that they are doing all they can to make that happen. By applying the Accountability Assumption, you not only bring out the best in yourself, but, with some rare exceptions, you will see the same coming from the people you depend upon.

When the people you count on do fail to follow through and deliver on expectations, there’s only one thing to do—apply the third and final axiom, the Accountability Truth. True accountability begins by looking at yourself, by holding yourself accountable. The truth is, when things go wrong, there is usually something wrong with what “I” am doing. When you embrace this axiom, you harness future outcomes and strengthen your ability to hold others accountable. Seeing yourself as part of the problem empowers you to join the team that will do whatever it takes to solve the problem. Thinking and behaving this way allows you to become more proficient at getting results through others.

These three axioms form the foundation for holding others accountable in a positive, principled way and set the stage for effectively establishing expectations with others in a way that produces results and fosters true accountability.