"Accountability" is a buzz word that is being thrown around an awful lot these days. By heads of state, regulators, advocacy groups, bosses, CEOs, and media pundits. They all seem to use the word "accountability" as though they (and the rest of us) actually know what it means.
These opinion-molders tell us about how the government needs to be held accountable to its citizens, how too-big-to-fail banks need to be held accountable for the financial meltdown, how educators need to be held accountable for how their students perform on standardized tests, and so forth. All talk, no action. All because people feel reassured when the "A" word is used regardless of whether true accountability actually occurs.
Hopefully you're now asking what accountability really is. Webster's dictionary doesn't help much. It defines accountability as "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions." But what does "accepting responsibility" or "accounting for one's actions" actually mean? Have I accepted responsibility simply because I say the words "I accept responsibility for this?" By what accounting method do I "account for my actions?"
Given how politically correct this word is and how vague its definition is, "accountability" is a perfect word for lots of people to misuse!
The heart of accountability is the law of cause-and-effect. I make a choice. I take an action. It produces results. Commitment, behavior, impact.
Here's a simple example of what real accountability looks like:
Now let's look at what fake accountability looks like using this example:
Are you getting the picture? Since true accountability is about the law of cause-and-effect, the heart of real accountability is "natural consequences:" logical effects that grow from my actions and inactions. There are only two basic alternatives to natural consequences: indulgence or revenge.
Dan Millman, in his book "Living on Purpose" writes that "Consequences teach better than concepts... prisons are full of people who understood the moral concepts but didn't grasp the consequences."
Consider your relationship with accountability -- from both sides of the accountability equation:
If you want to see more true accountability in the world, please join me in being the change you want to see. Embody accountability as a role model. Honor natural consequences regarding commitments others make to you -- from spouses to children to parents to friends to co-workers to businesses you deal with to public officials you elect or who work for the government your taxes fund.
If you find yourself getting overly angry at people or organizations with accountability deficits, consider getting my Conquering Anger Mountain training manual .
If you find it difficult to enforce logical consequences, consider getting my NICE™ Boundaries training manual .
If you tend to ruthlessly punish yourself for making mistakes, instead of allowing your mistakes to become your biggest gifts, consider getting my From Inner Critic to Inner Helper training manual .
If integrity issues in general tend to be an important theme in your personal or work life -- either with yourself or with those around you -- consider getting my six-award-winning book about the hijacking of integrity and what to do about it, The New IQ .