Am I Accountable?

Regardless of the business leader or the business book you consult, three words will surface during your discussion or reading — leadership, communication, and accountability. 

There are countless books, articles, and studies on leadership and communication. A recent search of Amazon will return over 60,000 items in response to “leadership” as a search term. Likewise, searching “communication” will produce more than 60,000 results. However, “accountability” returns a scant 4,000 results. The fact is that most will reference the immense importance of accountability at a personal, team, and organizational level, but too few are “walking the talk.”

The intentions of the majority are good. Rarely will anyone state that they don’t value accountability or wouldn’t want to be held accountable. But when performance wanes, or a mistake is made, the frequent cry is, “Someone must be held accountable,” and all too often, attention focuses on the search for a scapegoat. While most will demand that accountability be applied, too few are equipped to administer it, and even fewer realize their shortcomings.  

In his best-seller, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni states that “avoidance of accountability,” one of the five dysfunctions, stems from a lack of commitment, and low accountability inhibits a team’s ability to focus on results. It is unusual if an article, book, or management system does not mention the importance of accountability in building and sustaining a thriving business. Most often, the organizational or team leader role bears the burden of holding others accountable. So, while there appears to be universal agreement that accountability is essential to success, most fail to demonstrate it. Why?

To start, some confuse accountability with responsibility. Responsibility is task-focused. It involves the effort and motivation to get something done. Accountability, on the other hand, is results-oriented. The action alone is not enough; results must materialize. Accountability denotes ownership — one either succeeds or fails to deliver. They are the ones whose “throat is choked” if expectations are unmet.

Many think accountability only crops up when something goes wrong or if someone wants to pinpoint the cause of the problem. In both cases, the purpose is to pin blame and point a finger. When things are sailing smoothly, and failure has not yet sunk the ship, people rarely ask, “Who is accountable for this success? “Often, we don’t search for the responsible party until a leak occurs. Not surprisingly, most dictionaries promote this somewhat negative view when defining accountability.  

While we look for someone to hold accountable, we fail to realize that the only person we can truly hold accountable is ourselves. Our commitment to deliver to the best of our ability on our entrusted tasks is entirely in our control, and it is what makes a difference.

When something goes wrong, we often revert to a victim mentality. We rationalize that a reason other than our own decisions, actions, or inactions created the dilemma. If part of a team, it was Johnny or Sally who dropped the ball. There is little thought or consideration of what role we may have played in the situation. Did we offer assistance? Did we do everything in our power to contribute to a positive result?

In QBQ!, author John G. Miller suggests a simple guideline to follow to determine if you are exhibiting a victim mindset. Ask yourself, “What or how can I perform an action that will result in a positive outcome?” and “Who am I serving?” Quite often, when playing a victim, the answer is that you are serving no one, not even yourself.

The authors of The Oz Principle define accountability as “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving the desired results — to See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It.” You can summarize the key theme of the book with a simple question that everyone should ask to break the pull of “below-the-line” victim thinking — “What else can I do to operate above-the-line (avoid being a victim) and achieve the desired results?”  

That phase is very similar to one expressed by Peter F. Drucker in The Effective Executive“What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?” It is also aligned with Gary Keller’s focusing question in his book, The One Thing“What is the one thing I can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?”  

In each case, the focus is on self-action, not looking for someone else to take ownership to save the day. In short, accountability is a personal choice.  

Are you and your leadership team demonstrating true accountability? Do you need help embedding accountability into your culture? Helmwise can help. Learn more at