Trying to hold someone else accountable is like trying to eat their lunch for them. No person can hold another accountable. They can impose consequences which is something entirely different from accountability.

Accountability is an accounting of the decisions that lead to a certain result and the insight of other options that 20/20 hindsight reveals. That is something only the person who made those choices can do.

I would like to see the phrases “holding someone accountable” or “being held accountable” removed from the lexicon. It conjures the image of being a child standing in front of a looming adult listening to a scolding of why what you did was so wrong waiting for one’s punishment to be doled out. And did you ever really learn anything from it?

I would put, “taking account” in their place.

Everything in our lives is the result of previous choices.
Sometimes one big one. Sometimes a series of several smaller choices. Usually at the beginning of the process we have more options. As we get further and further down the trail the number of options often dwindle.

The choices we are able to see at each step are influenced by our experience. Usually the more experience the more options we are able to see. Or we know from previous adventures which ones definitely don’t work. Our world views open and close options. Our emotional state does as well. Studies show when we are angry we tend to lose 5 IQ points.

accountability lunch quoteWhen we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it.
That goes for our personal history as well as global history. Got a result you don’t like? Work your through all the choices that were the stepping stones to get you there. At each one brainstorm 3-5 other possible options you might have missed – even the absurd. Now when a similar situation comes up again you aren’t doomed to repeat the pattern.

Got a result you do like? Work your way through all your choices that got you there. Make note of what worked so you can be sure to repeat it. Brainstorm 3-5 options that might have resulted in an even better outcome.

If you are in a leadership position this is a very powerful tool. Instead of doling out punishments & consequences start by working with the person to take into account how they got the results they got. You absolutely must do this with all the emotion and judgement of a calculator adding up the books — none.

In my previous life I was a special educator working with children K-8 who needed academic and social support in school. Most of the “discipline problems” ended up at my classroom door – either officially or of their own volition. Many visited the principal almost daily, usually for the same offense. When asked “Why did you do it?” They’d shrug their shoulders and say “I dunno”. And they didn’t. One thing lead to another so fast that one minute they were playing at recess, the next they found themselves in the office – again.

It’s What Leadership is About
I started sitting down with Principal’s Office Frequent Fliers to map out the choices that got them the result of being in trouble yet again. At each step we brainstormed several other options. As we went through a neutral, non judgement, unemotional accounting of the situation they were able to see options they missed and I was able to guide them to additional ones they couldn’t see yet due to their lack of experience. I knew I was successful when the principal said, “I miss Robby, I haven’t seen him in a while.”

Instead of a top down doling out of consequences, the process of taking account becomes an exercise collaborative problem solving and gives the person a sense of ownership of their choices and their results. And isn’t that what a real leader does? Inspires and empowers people to take ownership of the outcomes and goals and gives them the tools to achieve them?

photo: Ashton