Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

The Liberating Power of Accountability


Liberating is an odd word to associate with the idea of accountability in the workplace. At least it is until you’ve worked in an environment where accountability is enforced like patronage jobs in Chicago are dispensed—unfairly, unevenly, and directly related to the powerful people you know.

The absence of consistent enforcement of accountability creates a toxic environment filled with distrust and disgust, the latter emotion felt by those who take their commitments seriously, while others cavalierly shirk theirs without repercussion.

Some managers are easy marks for manipulative employees who create a seemingly never-ending list of plausible-sounding excuses as to why they aren’t living up to their commitments.

This well-intentioned but naïve manager provides regular latitude to the excuse-making employee, while everyone else looks on with annoyance at this obvious ploy.

In other circumstances, a dual set of rules emerges, where everyone but one or two manager’s favorites work diligently to live up to commitments and meet deadlines, while the favorites seem to have perpetual hall passes.

And in perhaps the most annoying of all scenarios, the manager preaches and enforces accountability for everyone except the person staring back in the mirror.

The manager who violates the commandment, “The do must match the tell” is quickly overdrawn in their credibility account.

A Core Value

Accountability, for me, is a core value: For myself and for my team.

You don’t work for me (for long) if you don’t share and exhibit this value. And while I expect you to hold me accountable, you won’t have to. I would sooner gnaw my arm off than violate this value.

Accountability must be a core value for you and your team.

No exceptions.

No hall passes.

No dual sets of rules.

Why Accountability Is Liberating

And here’s why an environment where accountability is understood, expected, and practiced is liberating.

People quickly realize they can depend on their co-workers.

Trust and respect grow.

The games disappear.

There’s no pressure to hide from mistakes. (There’s intense pressure to own up to mistakes and learn from them quickly.)

People begin to both support and push each other.

A team emerges.

Collaboration is comfortable.

Innovation becomes more than a slogan on a poster. It grows legs.

And people enjoy their work.

All of that from a single word: accountability.

Environments where accountability is missing-in-action are workplace free-for-alls filled with churn. However, even in a sea of chaos, you can create a pool of calm by exhibiting, articulating, and defending accountability on your team daily.

Art Petty is a coach and consultant working with executives and management teams to unlock business and human potential. He writes the Leadership Caffeine blog.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec