Article | Accountability Insights
Traditional views of accountability focus too narrowly on answerability. Like the foul-tempered Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, who, at the slightest offense or misdeed, cries “Off with their heads!” some leaders have become overly obsessed with making their people “answer” for their actions, especially when actions fail to produce the desired results. The old saying “The price of failure is a pound of flesh” is based on a speech made by Shylock in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. Shylock lends money to the merchant Antonio and sets bond or collateral at a pound of Antonio’s flesh. When Antonio defaults on the loan, Shylock demands his pound of flesh, “The pound of flesh, which I demand of him, is dearly bought; ‘tis mine, and I will have it.”
Forcing people to report, explain, or justify their actions creates an orientation in organizations that accountability is something that happens to you when things go wrong, rather than something you do yourself in an effort to make sure things go right. Typically, when answerability is the focus, accountability becomes an instrument of blame and accusation. In such an environment, taking accountability looks more like a coerced confession than a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and claim ownership for achieving the desired results. A coerced confession may ameliorate the situation for a time, but it will rarely bring about a real and lasting change in effort or results. However, true accountability is so much more than a voluntary confession; it is a commitment to solve the problem, find solutions, and prevent problems from occurring in the future. Taking accountability means having a true sense of ownership and investment. It drives a personal desire to want to be answerable, to want to have your name associated with the results, and to be judged by the outcome. Yes, it is essential for people in organizations and society to feel answerable for their actions, but taking accountability means so much more than that.
People who take accountability for results internalize the need for change and embark upon the Steps To Accountability—to See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It. They become self-motivated and highly resourceful, focusing fully on what else they can personally do to achieve the desired results. They make it a habit to See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It in everything they do. And they believe that they can and will overcome whatever obstacles they encounter in their quest to achieve the results they desire.
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