“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership, and a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.” ~ Pat Summit ~ former Women’s Basketball Coach, University of Tennessee
Accountability is probably the most desired trait that a leader wants to see in their team members and yet, quite often, it is the trait that is missing the most in many organizations. I don’t necessarily think it is always intentional, I just think a lot of people don’t truly understand what it means to hold yourself accountable. Many people think all they have to do is show up for work every day and be on time and that makes them accountable. No, that just makes you “present”. Accountability goes much further than just showing up. Accountability also comes in many forms.
For example, one of the quickest ways to show oneself unaccountable is to be quick to blame others. Maybe you’ve heard the old saying, “When you point a finger at someone, there are three more fingers pointing back at you.” That’s sage wisdom and something we should all consider before trying to deflect blame by pointing the finger at someone else. It’s always good to consider both sides of things before you begin holding someone else accountable to a standard you may not hold yourself to. This is clearly illustrated by an old fable written over 200 years ago by Noah Webster. This fable was taught in schools for many years until teaching such things as virtue and accountability in schools became taboo. I’d like to share that fable with you.
A Farmer came to a neighboring Lawyer, expressing great concern for an accident, which, he said, had just happened.
“One of your oxen,” continued he, “has been gored by a bull of mine, and I should be glad to know how I am to make your reparation.”
“Thou art a very honest fellow,” replied the Lawyer, “and wilt not think it unreasonable that I expect one of your oxen in return.”
“It is no more than justice,” quoth the Farmer, “to be sure: but what did I say? I mistake – It is your bull that has killed one of my oxen.”
“Indeed!” says the Lawyer, “that alters the case: I will enquire into the affair; and if -“
“And if!” said the Farmer – “the business I find would have been concluded without an ‘if’ had you been as ready to do justice to others, as to extract it from them.”
Therein lies the danger of being quick to hold others accountable but failing to hold oneself to those same standards. Accountability is funny like that – it doesn’t pick and choose when it should be applied. But the fable goes even further. The Lawyer represents one who has reached a level of social prominence. He is in a position of authority and as we gain authority, our levels of personal accountability must become even more stringent, especially to those subordinate to us.
This flies in the face of what most people think of when it comes to personal accountability. They will go out of their way to be accountable to those they must answer to, but hold no personal accountability to those subordinate to them, when in fact, those in positions of authority must always set the example of personal accountability.
So when it comes to accountability, remember those three fingers that are point back at you. Hold yourself accountable first. If we all do that, we’ll be better employees, better family members, better people and we’ll end up with a much better team. Ownership is the most powerful weapon any team, organization or family can ever have.
- Accountability or the Lack Thereof (sethdcohen.com)
- ABCs of Leadership – Accountability (thisisjacked.wordpress.com)
- Why Projects Succeed: Fostering Joint Accountability (slalom.com)