Accountability is defined as the obligation of an individual or organisation to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you waited in hope that something might happen, then blamed someone else when it didn’t because it ‘wasn’t your responsibility’?
Hey, I’m not judging. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Sometimes every day.
But that doesn’t make it right. Not just because it’s a pretty lame thing to do, but because it stops you from getting the results you want. That’s a serious handicap in business, and it doesn’t play out so well in your personal life either.
Take a look at the Accountability Ladder below:
Now be honest. How much of your time do you spend ‘below the line’ … and how much on top?
We all know that the bottom four rungs of the ladder lead you nowhere but into a huge headache, continual stress and no results. We all know how good it feels to climb up instead, by really taking hold of a situation and making things happen.
So why is it so hard to keep ourselves at the top?
Sometimes, it’s down to fear of ‘being a doormat’ – that by always taking responsibility, we’ll be taken advantage of. Sometimes it’s down to really believing someone else should be doing it. Sometimes, it’s down to fear of failure – that if we march upwards and seek a solution, we risk getting it wrong and tumbling right off. Sometimes, it’s simply down to tiredness, or overwork, or lethargy.
But accountability comes with its own magic and its own energy. As soon as you look a monster in the face and get your hands round its neck, it suddenly shrinks to the size of a mouse. That doesn’t mean that there are easy solutions to every problem – but an honest appraisal and empowered and accountable attitude strips away much of its power.
Accountability is also brilliant team glue.
Having a team coming together, be accountable and take each step on the accountability ladder together until they reach the ‘made it happen’ rung of victory is one of the most inspiring and impactful experiences in a business.
Take a situation you’re currently frustrated with.
This could be professional or personal – the ladder applies equally to both. Ask yourself these six questions in turn:
- What is the situation?
- What and who does it impact?
- Is it important (and possibly urgent)?
- Are you currently above or below the accountability line?
- What can you expect if you don’t take accountability?
- What if you do?
Even just asking question one helps break you out of the mental deadlock and move you upwards. As you work through all six, your perspective should start to shift as you take an honest look at what’s happening and ask what you, yes you, can make a change.
Here’s an example of how taking accountability has been transformative in my own life.
Like most married couples, my husband and I get into habits of behaving and thinking certain ways. It’s easy for me to pick up on dozens of things he does each week that irritate me: not putting his shoes back in the cupboard, throwing his coat wherever it lands when he arrives home, dropping a tea bag on the floor and not wiping up the smear, decimating the kitchen whilst cooking, not recognising when a clothes wash needs to go on, leaving everything out of the toolbox when –
I’ll stop myself there.
But an incident that happened last summer reminded me of the importance of using the accountability ladder even when it comes to my own relationship. At the end of a long day, shattered from a two-hour drive home on a packed M25, I opened the front door to see ‘in my eyes’ chaos, There was stuff everywhere – clothes, shoes, sports kit, books – but my husband was relaxing on the sofa with a beer.
Standing in the hallway, I imagined confronting him and hearing his rebuttals come straight from the bottom four rungs of the accountability ladder.
I didn’t notice…
It’s not my mess….
I was going to do it but I knew if I did you would…
Oh, I could just imagine what he’d say. Crossly, I picked my way through the clutter, until I stumbled on a shoe with a three-inch heel and realised: the mess was MINE.
But that was where the really hard part started. Because, although the accountability had suddenly and unmistakably transferred to me, I instantly started retracing my steps along those same four bottom rungs. I hadn’t realised… it’s because I have been so busy with work recently…. I’m too tired… how nice if he had just noticed and done it. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to notice that I was displaying the exact same attitude I had mentally criticised in him.
So I cleared it up. And when I finally actually got to my husband on the sofa, I discovered that he had in fact already been out and bought food, cooked dinner, washed up, mowed the lawn and much more. Ashamed, I told him about the saga that had been going through my head, and we had a good laugh and a lovely dinner. But it could have been a very different sort of evening. And from then onwards, I keep the accountability ladder taped to our fridge as a reminder to walk my own talk.
Accountability isn’t easy.
But it does make your life so much better, both at home and at work. It improves your relationships, fuels your energy and makes sure you get the results you’re after, rather than having the debatable glory of claiming that it wasn’t your fault things didn’t work out.
So where are you on the ladder right now?