Mention the word accountability and most leaders immediately envision a punitive system to address failed commitments and broken promises. At InitiativeOne, we understand that developing a culture of positive accountability requires much more than a scorecard involving measurement, review, and punitive consequences. A culture of positive accountability is the result of an intentional process to create a healthy leadership culture. We have helped many leaders understand and practice five powerful building blocks that transform accountability into a positive experience.
First, a culture of positive accountability always requires Impeccable Communication. Aside from the obvious fact that honesty consistently ranks as a non-negotiable trait of effective leadership, vague and misleading communication damages trust and undermines accountability. Leaders practice impeccable communication by speaking openly and honestly. Impeccable communicators deliver information directly to the appropriate recipient in a respectful manner. The bottom line for leaders today: “Employees want to be a part of a workplace culture that puts a premium on delivering the truth.”
Second, Consensus Driven Leadership is essential. Positive accountability is damaged by a top-down leadership culture. The goal of top-down leadership is compliance. In contrast, consensus driven leadership promotes commitment and ownership. As organizational members share in the consensus, group solidarity emerges that prepares the culture for positive accountability.
Third, a culture of positive accountability thrives in organizations that create a Safe Environment. Without a safe environment, troublesome issues remain hidden and the level of safety becomes the limiting factor in whether problems are resolved or left to worsen under the surface. In an unsafe environment, accountability is avoided for fear of repercussion. Such an environment becomes fertile ground for passive aggressive behavior. Unless the environment is safe leaders will not exercise the “emotional courage” required to practice new behaviors. Conversely, in a safe environment, organizational members are free to share information openly and honestly and issues are resolved in a timely manner.
Fourth, to develop a culture of positive accountability organizational members must possess a Healthy Self-Validation System. Self-validation systems are defined by the way a person derives personal affirmation or value. Do members measure their own value and effectiveness exclusively in terms of “doing” the right tasks or does personal worth flow from “being”? When members measure their value as a person based upon doing, they will define themselves by their activities or failures. According to this type of self-validation system, if I fail, then I am a failure. The fear of being a failure becomes a mechanism for avoiding accountability. In addition, someone who fears accountability will not possess the freedom to hold others accountable.
However, a person with a healthy self-validation system recognizes personal value apart from what they do. They receive and respond to information from others consciously. A healthy self-validation system effectively neutralizes information. Thus, information does not threaten personal value. A healthy self-validation system shifts a view of accountability from negative to positive.
Finally, positive accountability is never about embarrassing or diminishing others. In fact, it is one of the most Respectful ways to help others win by honoring their commitments to themselves and to others. In addition, positive accountability responds constructively to failure by providing a process to determine why the failure happened and the steps necessary to avoid repeating the same behavior.