The recent political silly season is over – finally – and once again, I was listening for one particular word in the endless ads that peppered the airwaves:  accountability.

It seems like the only time you hear that word is in the context of blaming one’s opponent for lack of it.  I suspect that the reason so many of us grow so weary during political campaign season is that the finger-pointing is more prevalent than accepting responsibility for one’s actions.  And the gridlock that ensues is always the other person’s fault.  Can someone please make it all stop?

Businesses, on the other hand, can’t afford to shirk responsibility or accountability.  Customers expect nothing less.  Accountability must be a core value, never compromised, never up for discussion.

“Leaders must develop a lower threshold for alibis and become better communicators and enforcers of what they want done,” writes Dave Anderson, author of “No-Nonsense Leadership.” “If you are more interested in being liked and popular than holding people accountable for results, you have a serious leadership weakness.  It is not your job to make people happy.  Your job is to get them better.  Holding people accountable to high standards and results is nothing to apologize for.  Failing to stretch them to their potential is.”

My friend Bob Dilenschneider, founder and principal of The Dilenschneider Group in New York, counsels corporations all over the world on planning and communications.  In his recent “Red Book” paper on “Why Accountability Matters,” he suggests that rather than dwelling on culpability, focus instead on accountability in terms of taking responsibility for one’s actions.  “Accountability should be approached as a mindset – one that shapes our goals and the action you take to achieve those goals.”

accountability3To me, that means accountability is a good thing, not a negative.  I want to own my decisions because I try to do the right thing even when it is not the easy thing.  I am willing to accept the blame when necessary as well as the credit when deserved for my actions.

“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership.  And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have,” says Pat Summitt, former Tennessee women’s basketball coach.  For the record, she holds the most all-time wins for a coach in NCAA basketball history of either a men’s or women’s team in any division.

Accountability starts at the top and needs to be clearly communicated in every facet of business.  Employees need to share common goals with management, take ownership of projects, and work as a team to the best of their ability.  Managers engender accountability with these steps:

  • Establish clear deadlines.  Reporting on progress must be a priority for management and employees alike.  Set specific timetables, schedules and dates for reports and completion.  Employees need to understand the importance of keeping everyone in the loop.
  • Deal with problems immediately.  Employees whose work does not meet requirements can destroy a project and ruin your relationship with customers and other employees.  Find out what caused the problem:  miscommunication on your part, lack of willingness or ability, unrealistic deadlines?  Then do whatever you must to address the issue.
  • Don’t tolerate excuses.  An employee who always has an excuse will never take responsibility for his or her work.  Your customer expects results, not excuses.
  • Remove obstacles.  If managers or employees can’t achieve desired results, look for the issue and correct it.  There may be legitimate problems that are preventing progress.  Computer glitches, overloaded schedules or slow delivery of materials are unexpected complications that you cannot afford to ignore.
  • Delegate wisely.  Sharing ownership in a project lets your staff know that you trust them and that you are sharing responsibility as well.  Coach those employees so they understand how their performance contributes to projects.
  • Give sufficient authority.  Don’t think of this as having someone else to blame.  Rather, consider it an opportunity for employees to demonstrate their potential and bring fresh perspectives.

USA Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, aka Coach K, says, “In putting together your standards, remember that it is essential to involve your entire team.  Standards are not rules issued by the boss; they are a collective identity.  Remember, standards are the things that you do all the time and the things for which you hold one another accountable.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Accountability is the ability to accept responsibility. 

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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