This word – accountability – has troubled me sometimes. Too often someone wants to impose his or her version of it on someone else. Even the definitions I’ve found fail to communicate a strongly positive connotation.
- From Miriam-Webster: the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions
- From dictionary.com: the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable
Although they’re not necessarily negative either. There’s a weight to being accountable, you are agreeing to be responsible.
In my coaching classes, we talk about accountability a lot. Yet, it’s in the context of helping our clients define what accountability looks like for them. And then, what they want from us around their definition of accountability. They create the entire experience – according to what works for them.
Sometimes I feel a bit cynical, that the world is becoming filled with people who tend to blame others. “If only, he or she didn’t… then I wouldn’t…” Other times I think we’re reluctant to reveal the extent of the responsibility we each feel for things – to be that vulnerable.
Making changes is hard. Plain and simple. There are philosophies abounding about how to make them happen. One of the most successful tactics for realizing changes is to tell people about your intentions. This makes us most likely to follow through – there’s an accountability built in. We’re making ourselves accountable by telling other people about our goals.
This is exactly like in our coaching practice (and many organizing clients) – our clients share their intentions and we follow up and see how they are coming. Of course, we also spend time talking about the details making it specific.
Yet, what happens when someone is critical of our not succeeding in making those changes? It undermines our efforts. We’re less likely to broadcast our goals again.
We need to make sure we find supportive people to share our goals with – people who will encourage us at the same time that they won’t let us off the hook easily. Hence, hold us accountable. You need to define what that looks like for you – how do you want to be held accountable? Ideally, even if you don’t manage to meet your expectations, the result is not criticism, but curiosity, “what happened?”
Accountability can certainly develop negative connotations depending on whom you’re sharing things with. In essence, accountability is a positive concept. We all need it to some degree, just in our distinct, personal way. When I think about accountability in this way, whether for myself or for those I work with, I appreciate the value it has.