Accountability Can't Be Dictated 31 Jul 2010
Everyone talks about accountability. It’s one of those things we all want and expect, but it’s something that is often struggled with. No one wakes up and plans to fail holding themselves accountable. Yet, even with good intentions we often fail to follow-through. Why is it so difficult?

Whether in conversation or reading it strikes me as odd how often accountability is being dictated as opposed to owned. If I tell you to be more accountable what do you think the chances are that you will become more accountable? I bet slim to none.

We can always up the ante and impose consequences. Perhaps the more severe the consequence the more accountable you’ll become. There is some truth in this method, but it comes at a cost. An example of that cost is creating a fear-based culture which can become focused on retribution. If you’ve ever worked for an employer who ruled by fear and consequence you know what I’m referring to.

Accountability in my opinion doesn’t fail because individuals have malicious intent. I think it fails because we often try to impose it on others rather than owning it ourselves. Accountability starts with the individual. I choose to be accountable or not. I choose to be responsible with the commitments and decisions I’ve made. No one else. No matter how much you encourage me at the end of the day it’s still up to me.

In Peter Block’s book Community he points out in reference to accountability is ”… that people will be accountable and committed to what they have a hand in creating.”

I believe he’s referring to authentic creation as well. Dictating to someone how to solve a problem every step of the way isn’t allowing them to be a part of creating that solution. They have no stake in, no connection to the solution or the process of getting there. This may be perceived as creation by the individual in control, but it’s an illusion.

Instead of dictating step one, step two, etc, why not present the problem and allow the individual to own achieving the solution? You can still make yourself available, provide guidance, and set parameters. This doesn’t have to remove you from the equation, but it removes you from controlling the entire process. You’re trading your control for their freedom. It’s in their freedom they are able to be a part of the process for solving the problem. They become a creator in that instance. I believe this creates accountability that is owned by an individual opposed to that which is demanded of us by others.

While there are support measures for peers and our communities to help us be accountable, ultimately it’s up to us as individuals. Accountability can’t be dictated. It must be owned.

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