… but I’m all right now! I got over that. I know my accountant friends cringe when I use that expression, but I didn’t find that the function allowed me the freedom I so much desired as a part of my working life. Don’t get me wrong, I think the training I received as an account has served, and continues to serve, me well in the business world, and I believe we are far better off with accountants to help us manage and grow our organizations. But I’ve enjoyed having the freedom associated with roles that reach outside the organization to customers and suppliers that are focused on building new relationships and solutions.
Thinking about my roots as an accountant brought me to examine the word “accountability” more closely, along with the phrase “hold accountable”. In general we apply that word to our responsibility towards others or vice versa, or in the business world the accountability of an employee towards their employer. What it means to us is that we measure whether the person being held accountable have done what they are supposed to do, and whether they have done it correctly or effectively.
When we apply accountability in this way, we are comparing outcomes to a previously defined standard. That standard may be an objective measurement associated with a role. For example, a sales person is held accountable to make their quota in a given period. A sports team coach may be held accountable for making the playoffs. The standard may also be applied subjectively on a moral, ethical or expectation basis using some of the principles discussed in my post about the words should/need/must. When this happens we may start to apply our own standards to the performance of others, resulting in us making judgements about that individual without knowing enough about their individual circumstances to justify it.
Perhaps the most risky application of accountability can be towards ourself. What expectations do we place on ourselves, and what is our reaction if we don’t achieve them. For example, we decide we want to lose 20 pounds and three months later weigh the same as we used to. Do we start to tell ourselves that we lack discipline, that we have a weakness for fries, that we’ll never look as good as “so and so” down the hall. In short we set limits on ourselves, we make excuses and otherwise diminish our own self-image.
As traditionally defined we must be extremely careful with the way we apply accountability. By nature it is a measure of expectations set in the past, and without proper judgement added in to the mix, can actually hinder what it was set out to assist … the achievement of goals. Accountability doesn’t look forward towards new possibilities.
What if we took a different view of accountability? What if accountability became a measure of us living to our fullest potential. What if we didn’t set goals in the way of concrete targets, but we were to arise each day with the expectation that we will express ourselves fully, that we will seek as many new experiences as possible to expand our horizons and knowledge and that we will contribute whatever we have, wherever possible to our teams and communities? And what if accountability was applied retrospectively at the end of each day where we examine not only our successes and the rewards those successes brought to us, but also what barriers we may have placed in front of our success, and how we might remove those barriers in days to come?
Can we apply this new definition as leaders as well? Is it important that we set goals and achieve? Or is it important that we strive to be as great as we can? Could a goal actually become a limitation if we set it too low? What if we worked with each member of our team to help them discover their true gifts and passions, understand the environment they need to release those gifts and work with them to help work to the fullness of themselves? Of course this needs to be within the context of what the team was built to do, but what if accountability as a team was about “how great can we be”?