In a recent course, we discussed discipline and self-discipline. When some heard the word discipline, they assumed it included self-discipline. We spent some time differentiating the two. In some cases, the differentiation is not very important, but in the context of our discussion, it was very important. We defined discipline as that which is imposed on us by someone who has the authority to assign consequences if we fail to respond. Self-discipline is that which we impose on our self. The discussion ended with all preferring to practice self-discipline, avoiding discipline by another. It seems to me the same logic applies to accountability.
Typically, when a leader thinks about accountability, it relates to potential discipline that he or she may impose on another. While some leaders do not relish this responsibility, most recognize it is part of leadership. If there is no accountability, the quantity or quality of work suffers. Traditionally, those who hold others accountable rely on position and authority to exert accountability.
It is possible for people to hold themselves accountable. We know this, but one might question whether this can become the primary approach to accountability in an organization. It can if leaders use position and authority differently. A leader uses his or her position and authority to situate followers for self-accountability. To accomplish this, the leader must be intentional with every step he or she takes in developing the leader-follower relationship.
Consider the potential of people being accountable to self for the results of their work, and their impact on co-workers.
- Personal Responsibility
- Goal Achievement
- Personal Success
Ultimately, a person with a greater sense of personal accountability benefits an organization as well.
- Improved productivity
- Connection to the team and company
- Long term employment
- Higher level of contribution
- Positive culture
This is a “win-win” scenario! I can easily see that barriers to self-accountability are well worth overcoming. The question is how to lead in a manner that people begin to practice self-accountability. Four primary barriers you can anticipate include:
- History – Leaders and followers have history to overcome. This shared history has resulted in established behavioral patterns that are accepted and comfortable. Even though they do not represent the most effective concepts and practices for creating self-accountability, they are well established
- Organizational Resources – I have heard many leaders express frustration over resource limitations. The perception of inadequate resources should not limit self-accountability. Organizational leaders must design an organization with clear direction, clear expectations for leaders and followers, and leadership that knows how to develop people.
- Management Style – While many leaders would celebrate people on their team whose first level of accountability is self, they are not sure how to lead them there. Even though leaders know that present approaches to managing people are not working, they continue to practice them. When one is not aware of alternative concepts and practices, that person continues to do what they have done. The basic assumption is that he or she has to live with the results they currently experience.
- Change – Organizational, group, and individual change continues to be a hot topic. Even with all of the talk of change, most of us don’t like it. This is particularly true when we are not sure what will change, how to change, and where the change will lead. When a person has not possessed a sense of self-accountability, that expectation is a big change. A change avoided at all costs by many.
The benefits of self-accountability far outweigh the barriers to its practice. Our upcoming, complimentary webinar Creating Employee Ownership through the Five Levels of Accountability will introduce you to an approach to accountability that overcomes these barriers. You can participate on Wednesday, July 25 from 11 am to 12 pm by signing up here.