During a recent webinar series, I likened managers who avoid accountability to the leader in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In this story, two charlatans tell the emperor that they are master clothiers. They offer to make him a beautiful suit like none he has ever seen. Furthermore, they say, the cloth they use is so light and soft that it actually appears invisible to anyone not smart enough to appreciate its uniqueness. The emperor, unable to see the non-existent fabric himself, parades through the streets naked; attempting to ignore the murmuring of the crowd and trying to convince himself that everything is ok.
Accountability is a huge problem for many people, especially those in positions of authority. Many are uncomfortable with holding their teams accountable, so they avoid dealing with issues in the hope that they will resolve themselves on their own. Of course, they rarely do. Meanwhile, employees grow more and more frustrated with leaders who ignore the obvious, convinced they are doing the right thing.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring various aspects of accountability. I’ve presented the concept of conducting a team health check to get a feel for how the members of your team feel about the state of accountability. Remember, top performers thrive in an environment of accountability. [Tweet “Top performers thrive in an environment of accountability.”]
Then I presented the concept of the “former performer.” These are people who once set the standard for performance, but some reason have turned into speedbumps for the organization. Rather than take control of their own performance, they have become victims of circumstance, always offering an excuse for their lack of forward progress.
Last week, I wrote about the methods teams use to hold themselves accountable. Winning teams never rely on a single star to pull them through. It takes everyone committing to the vision and expecting the best from themselves and those around them to win championships.
Today, I wrap up this series on accountability by offering three ways individuals can introduce more personal accountability. We all want to do our best work. We all want to achieve our fullest potential. But too many times, we fall short due to a lack of personal accountability. We may find it easy to push ourselves appropriately in a group setting, but left to our devices, it’s all too easy to let things slide.
I personally fall into this category. Despite my best intentions, I often find myself procrastinating. I put off important projects and wind up struggling to produce at the last minute. Sometimes this works to my advantage (I tend to have my best ideas under a time crunch), but it is always stressful and I never feel like the work I produce is my best. I need to be held accountable. So for those projects where I don’t have another person whose job it is to provide external accountability, I use these methods to create it.
- Find a partner. During my sophomore year of college, I enrolled in a weight lifting class. I felt that this would be a great way to get in shape and develop an exercise routine. Unfortunately, the only class available was at 7:00 am – and I am not a morning person. I soon skipped enough classes to earn a warning form the coach. Another classmate received the same warning and we decided to become workout partners. We agreed to hold each other accountable for making it to class and making up those we’d missed. By working together, we managed to pass the course. Finding someone who shares the same goals, and even the same struggles, is a great way to create partnerships that help you both succeed.
- Create a competition. I like to win. I’ve found that a little friendly competition is great way to push myself into completing tasks I otherwise wouldn’t. My kids and I used to do this all the time when it came to housework. None of us enjoy cleaning house, but staging a race to see who could get their dirty clothes to the laundry room fastest makes the job fun. During camping trips with our Boy Scout troop, I’ll offer a reward for the person who picks up the most trash around camp. We always leave the place cleaner than we found it. Try creating a mini-rivalry with someone else and use the spirit of competition to boost your accountability.
- Go public. One method that has worked for me many times is to announce my intentions publicly. When I set a personal goal to reach 10,000 daily steps for the first three months of this year, I told a lot of people I was setting that goal. I gave them permission to check on my progress at any time. I knew that keeping that goal to myself was an easy way to let myself off the hook should an obstacle come along. Because I knew others would be asking to see my results, I did what it took to reach the goal. There were nights when I could be found walking in circles around my yard or a hotel room in order to get the last few steps in before going to bed. Without that accountability, I know I would have given myself permission to fall short. Thanks to that accountability, my streak continues well past the initial three month goal.
Like so many aspects of leadership, accountability is a skill. Some may have a natural inclination for it, but we can all develop it. Those who choose to ignore this critical aspect of personal and team leadership, never fail to suffer. Like the emperor parading around in non-existent clothes they become the object of contempt and derision. But those who commit to accountability, both for themselves and their teams, enjoy the benefits that only come from top performers consistently giving their best.
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