There’s an unsettling word that gets passed around organizations today. It starts with an “A” (no, not that one) and weighs down heavily upon the shoulders of employees due to the perceived amount of fault that accompanies it. The connotation associated with this “bad” word is worry and accusation as it creates an “avoidance” rather than a “go get ‘em” mentality.
What I’m referring to is the word “accountability.”
The pressure of accountability grows when you discover you’re now responsible for the success and failure of a new task but don’t feel you’re quite ready to tackle it. Realistically, though, accountability isn’t bad. In fact, it’s healthy and necessary for building incentives and growing personal leadership.
Related: 12 Habits of Exceptional Leaders
Thankfully, I have some good news for you, which will precede the bad news. Since we all love instant gratification, here’s the good news first: you’re not alone.
When I was going through BUD/S (Navy SEAL training), I remember thinking to myself, “When are the instructors going to prepare us for Hell week?” Hell week is five and a half days of constant activity with four hours of sleep the whole week. I finally realized that the answer was never -- the only preparation we had was what was already inside us. The only comforting thought about this at the time was that all my classmates thought the same thing and they were all equally miserable.
And misery loves company, right?
Now for the bad news. Murphy likes to poke his head in and cause you to zig when you thought for sure you would zag, so no matter how much prep time you give yourself there will always be something else to improve upon, something you shoulda, woulda, coulda done better.
So the question becomes, how can you ensure you’re doing the right things and doing them right (thank you, Peter Drucker) when given a new task? Run through this checklist to find the three ways you can lessen the burden of accountability:
1. Distinguish between authority and accountability.
There’s an old saying that goes, “you can delegate authority, but not responsibility.” Authority refers to who is in charge. Responsibility (accountability) refers to the actions that breed results. Essentially, you can give people the reins but whether they assume ownership and internalize its meaning is up to them.
2. Clarify roles and responsibilities.
It seems easy enough to mitigate, but much confusion arises out of unclear guidance. A lack of clear decision-making boundaries causes greater “bleed over” from one team to another. In other words, there are limited resources with unlimited hands in the pot vying for their attainment. Of course, this can be advantageous for the alpha-type, too, because he or she creates certainty even when it's not there.
After all, possession is nine tenths of the law.
3. Make the team accountable.
The concept of team accountability was drilled into us the first day of BUD/S because if one student made a mistake, then the entire class paid for it. It’s effective because it serves two purposes.
First, holding the team responsible builds accountability for each other. When you see someone going down a potentially slippery (performance) slope, you do everything possible to remedy it before the problem finalizes for fear of “paying the man” if he were to find out. Second, it builds greater self-awareness because nobody wants to be “that guy” who caused havoc upon the team.
Whether you’re a team leader, project leader or organizational leader, ultimately you’ll have to answer to somebody -- and that somebody is you. Hold yourself accountable higher than you hold others and watch their performance rise to the next level.