I Used To Be An Accountant …

… 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.

A-Cow-ntable? Me?
A-Cow-ntable? Me?

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.

You cannot account for the creativity of an artist
You cannot account for the creativity of an artist

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”?

Published by

Ian Munro @ leadingessentially.com

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

12 thoughts on “I Used To Be An Accountant …

  1. Whenever I’ve lead a team, I’ve always told them individually, and collectively that my my role was to hold the space for them to shine. Because when they shine, I am being my best — in other words, not getting in the way of their greatness! And when each individual in a team shines, the entire group resonates with greatness.

  2. I love this concept of holding space for others. I think it is so true that people don’t always have to opportunity to be their best because they don’t feel they have the space to create, contribute, express or experience things to their fullest.

  3. I like the part of being accountable to yourself. Ask yourself what you have done in a day as a personal goal. I am in between working gigs right now so my job is to be a partner to my hubby and manage the household. We also see to his moms immediate needs. I however have to account for what I need: Emotional security and basic self care are important so I can function in my family which includes brothers, sisters, a parent in-law as well as my spouse and our collective children and a grandson. Lately my personal goals are to maintain my mental and physical well-being and also to attend to the writing project I have ready to be published any day now. My goals are reasonable so that I can stick to them and thus be accountable to me.

  4. Hi Ian, this is good food for thought. When thinking about how to live one’s life, a framework comes to mind since it provides structure. Subsequently, we use this framework to measure what we are accountable for. So if as you mention, take a different view of accountability, is there a difference between simply “going with the flow” versus being goal-oriented? Perhaps we can merge these two things into a new way of living. The results therefore will happen but they are not what drive you to achieve them. It’s a new paradigm on how to live.

    1. What a great thought Adil! I’m pumped by this and we should discuss it further. What if “goal-oriented” morphed to forming intentions for oneself. And by merging this with “going with the flow” we in fact recognize that intentions are journeys in life, and going with the flow will take us towards those intentions?

  5. My daughter and I were having a conversation today about the nature of personal spirituality versus religious piety or operating within a conventional religious framework. I was talking with her about how her love of belly dancing, writing journals, her work with the Distress Centre and attending school were powerful outpourings of prayer expressed in a language which God understood and engaged in conversation with her. Ian’s thought ‘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…’ reminds me of a saying attributed to St. Irenaeus, ‘The glory of God is man fully alive’. Thank you, Ian, for reminding us of the need to become fully alive in our engagement with our busy lives and not resent its demands.

    1. Alan I thank you for your comment and its poignancy. I love the quotation from St. Iranaeus, whether one is Christian, religious, or spiritual. I do believe that we deny our purpose if we do not show up each day fully present, fully alive. Thank you for participating in the discussion!

  6. As a leader I think the last line says it all “how great can we be”.
    As you state, sometimes we only aim for the minimum standards set down by a previous protocol or government regulation, rather than setting our own standards of the very best that we can be.’

    As an aside, the title of this post ‘I used to be an accountant’ urges me to post you the question ‘what do you see yourself as now?’ Leader? Executive? Industry consultant? Author? Partner? Just very interested in your perception of self.

    1. Interesting question Elizabeth! The quick answer I guess is humorist as initially this expression was a joke I used regularly! however there is probably more than one real answer.

      The first is that I now see myself as the sum of my essential skills/gifts … That is I am facilitator/mediator that helps others find solutions and I am a builder who makes new things/concepts from available raw materials.

      The second is I now see “me” as a part of a bigger “we”. Our connections to others and contributions to community are such a huge part of how I see myself and others.

      1. Fantastic reply! And I like your concept of “I am a builder who makes new things/concepts from available raw materials.” in regard to leadership. That is an interesting way of looking at it.

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