The most loaded word in the english language.

Accountability. Never has there been a word uttered so often by so many with so little idea of what it really means.

I've worked with many managers to improve their processes. In the early stages of these projects, when we've identified the extent of how bad the problem is, the manager will often turn to me and say, "Isn't this really just a matter of holding people accountable?" or "they need to be more accountable." This is just finger pointing, not accountability. Accountability should always be about yourself not somebody else. Miki Saxon writes about this in the context of the current political environment, but it applies in all organizations.

In QBQ John Miller writes that accountability is the ability to ask the right questions. Examples of wrong questions are:
  • Who dropped the ball?
  • Who's going to solve this problem?
  • When is somebody going to train me?
  • Who made them king?

Better questions focus on personal accountability:
  • How can I help?
  • How can I become a part of the solution?
  • What can I do to develop myself?
  • What can I do to lead.

Instead of focusing on why something happened or who is at fault, ask questions with these qualities:
  • Start with how or what. Why and who are usually counter-productive
  • Contain an "I". In the end that is the only person you can actually control
  • Focus on action.

These are questions that you can actually answer yourself, and they bring about a mindset and action that will improve things. This is how leaders approach personal accountability.

Photo by a2gemma

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