In 2006 as the chair of a parent council at our school I was invited to a simulcast across the province by a speaker named David Irvine. David spoke about how to raise accountable children. I took five pages of notes and reached out to Mr. Irvine the next day. We have been colleagues and friends ever since. These teachings are integral in my slowly developing leadership skills.
We need more accountability. The world loves to turn to this all-too-common refrain when things aren't working as expected and someone is not meeting expectations. On a team when a coach announces, “we need more accountability” the team actually hears “we're failing and it's your fault.” I’ve yet to find anyone who is inspired by being blamed.
A lack of accountability is a downstream problem that requires upstream action. Leaders who default to a plea for accountability will inevitably become frustrated. Mr. Irvine suggests that rarely is an accountability problem actually an accountability problem, but rather it's a problem you can fix through a better agreement process. In every relationship we have, clarifying expectations is everything.
Step one, we need to clarify expectations as ambiguity breeds confusion. For example, think of all levels of government. What is the job description of each level of government, and what do our politicians, administration, influencers, and voters think the job of government is? There is nothing but ambiguity in our expectations around governing and we judge them on our own expectations.
Next, create a compelling ‘why’. That purpose is what fuels commitment. Once committed, people then bring passion to the why, and this then breeds accountability. These are never reversed. The Oilers have a ‘why’, the Stanley Cup. Every action is measured as to how it moves them toward that ‘why’ or not.
Then, get an agreement. A request is not an agreement. Accountability needs both / all parties to have committed to an agreement. Listening is everything to this step, and typically the missing piece.
I try to learn from my mistakes. For example, I always told my kids that nothing good ever happens after 10:00 o'clock at night. My kids thought that nothing fun ever happens before midnight. When I told them to be in ‘early’ my expectation would be that they would be home by 10, and theirs, well past midnight. When they arrive in at 11, they were expecting a very positive response from their father but received a negative one. My judgment was that they were not being accountable, and their comments were that dad is unfair. I missed so many steps resulting, not in an accountability problem, but an ambiguous agreement problem.
The final steps are to define consequences to accomplishing or not. Positive consequences should be introduced first, followed my what if we don’t accomplish what our agreement set out to do. Some form of regular follow up should be agreed on to keep on track.
Mr. Irvine defines accountability as being counted on. He then asked the question, who are those people on your list you can count on and whose list are you on?