Accountability as an Empowering Principle

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90% of employees would say that effectively holding others accountable is one of the top priorities of leadership. But how can you do that without “weaponizing” accountability? Bill and Ralph offer some tips and exercises to improve accountability in your business and strengthen your leadership.


Bill Berthel: Welcome to the Get Emergent podcast where we discuss contemporary topics of leadership team and organizational effectiveness. I’m Bill Bertell

Ralph Simone: and I’m Ralph Simone. And today we’re gonna talk about a topic that often locks people up and the topic is accountability, and it is a topic that we have dealt with in previous podcasts, but we wanna deal with it a little differently. It’s broader much broader than people’s initial reaction to it. You know, Bill, how can we help people with this concept that they often get locked up around?

Bill Berthel: You know, I think there’s some good reasons we get locked up around accountability. I think not gonna throw any stones. I’m probably guilty of the same in, in my leadership path, but, you know, do we use accountability as a tool or a weapon?

Are we weaponizing accountability? And what I mean by that is the scorekeeping. Holding people back or making them feel like they’re getting caught, doing something wrong instead of that place of what we often call co-accountability and getting proactive and partnering on the response-ability.

Ralph Simone: nice.

Well, I think that it goes beyond jamming people up for not delivering on a commitment. And I exactly, I, I like when we in coaching, one of the last steps in coaching is accountability and support, you know, asking people to make a commitment at the end of a meeting and also inquiring as to how can I support you in achieving that commitment.

Bill Berthel: I love that. I love the idea. of you know, supporting and then accountability model, you know, so the data shows that 82% of managers acknowledge that they have limited to no ability to hold others accountable successfully. So if, if managers and leaders are feeling at that level, there’s a challenge, right?

Because 91% of employees would say that effectively holding others accountable is one of their company’s top leadership needs. And so there’s this fear around accountability, I think perhaps, especially in today’s organizations, where we wanna make sure that we’re encouraging individuals to bring their talents, bring their abilities forward.

We’re almost gun shy of accountability.

Ralph Simone: Well, you know, and don’t you think we’re gun shy because we don’t set it up well, in the beginning? I almost think a challenge with accountability is sloppy language. You know, that we’re not clear, what are we actually being held accountable to? And, and I think, uh, I’ve often said this and I believe it to be true is that if our commitments are clear and understood.

That accountability is almost self-evidence.

Bill Berthel: So we gotta make those clear requests and make sure that we’re making good promises. Right. Make sure we’re making clear requests. So it’s understood what we’re being accountable to and to make sure that we’re saying yes to those things, we can truly say yes to, you know, I, I dabbled it a little life coaching for a little while.

One of the fundamental problems between relationships and this goes for leadership to employees or people as it does in any other relationship, is this idea of score keeping, why do you wanna win or lose against the people you’re working with? why do you wanna win or lose against the, the family member?

Right? This, this idea of score keeping is not helping accountability

Ralph Simone: Well, is it also score keeping based on unstated expectations?

Bill Berthel: So often, so often you think you said it clearly, or you think you asked for it right? We could spend a whole day talking about that space, right? Our expectations and how we communicate.

Ralph Simone: Well, I’m laughing cuz my wife jams me up recently holding me accountable apparently on my, this unwritten code that I have, but when people violate it right. Uh, and, and, but she said, well, if they didn’t know, it was an expectation, how

Bill Berthel: would they know? Yeah.

Ralph Simone: Yeah. How can you keep score as it relates to a violation?

I think it’s a good example of not being clear with request or expectations. So how would we, what would we suggest to people to tighten up the clarity of their requests?

Bill Berthel: Well, we think the leader has a, uh, an accountability and a response ability to have proactive check-ins with their people. Now that is not to.

You know, accommodate or enable the lack of accountability it’s to partner, right? It’s to check in days before the deadline or the due date or, or whatever those milestones might be. Right. Same for the individual who’s being held accountable to something. If we think we’re gonna miss a promise. Let’s renegotiate.

Let’s at least communicate towards renegotiating that might be putting the flag up and saying, hey, I could use a little support here, or could we possibly renegotiate that milestone or that deadline if possible.

Ralph Simone: Now that makes sense. Skipping earliest possible notice of our inability to keep a commitment.

And I, I think people don’t do that because I think they. Somehow feel they’re gonna pull a rabbit out of a hat. Right? They’re gonna get it done. But the problem with that is that if I’m the person that was promised something, I don’t have any recovery time if they don’t make it right. So no, no time to build in a contingency.

Bill Berthel: But here’s what we know.

We make dignity, the foundation.

Ralph Simone: What’s that mean?

Bill Berthel: So human dignity needs to be the foundation, right? We as managers or leaders, we, we need to understand the weight of our judgments, right? Our, our position, our seat holds a certain amount of energy and authority, and we need to be aware of that and make sure that we are creating the connection with our direct reports that deepens, instead of becomes more shallow, we need that deep connection so our people can raise the flag when they need help. So they can feel really safe, psychologically safe to say, Ooh, I might miss this one. Yeah. How can I get some support?

Ralph Simone: Seems like our intention here is to use accountability, to help people step further into their greatness and potential.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely.

Ralph Simone: And we need a growth mindset in curiosity, as opposed to judgment in order to do that because that’s the human dignity part.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. And what emerges in this space is the quality of the feedback. The quality of the learning process increases, right, is that psychological safety is enhanced. We get more meaningful feedback in the process.

We start to understand where the real barriers are to the performance or not making that deadline or what, whatever the accountability topic is. The second piece we’d ask leaders to do is really focus on equanimity. We know that, you know, fairness, if we want to call it that I like equanimity better, but this idea of making sure that we are treating individuals fairly and equally and treating that work in a fair and equal way, especially about mistakes.

I’ll go back to the score, keeping why would you wanna win or lose against your people? Let’s make sure that we’re holding that space with that full equanimity, prioritizing that fairness and accountability process. It will allow us to really create change in things.

Ralph Simone: And, you know, I was thinking about this sometimes when we set dates for things to be completed, we’re taking a best guess and I think, and I think, and so when we keep score, well, he didn’t get it done or as, as opposed to learning about, did we even set a realistic target? Or when that commitment was due. And I, I think there’s a tremendous amount of learning and that’s why I like to add the word support to accountability. It’s accountability and support. Because as a leader, I need to be doing both in order for improvement and engagement to actually increase.

Bill Berthel: And I think that idea of support brings us to the final piece. So we wanna make sure that we’re creating restoration, not blame. Not guilt or shame in accountability. And so when we’re focused on restoration, it’s about how do we get to where we wanted to be able to get, how do we get that goal accomplished that task accomplished.

This becomes really important, and this takes the dread out of accountability. It turns accountability into a strong leverage tool instead of the weapon. It can sometimes come across.

Ralph Simone: Well, I think it gets more at outcome versus problem.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely.

Ralph Simone: Yeah. Good.

So if there were a couple of calls to action that we would leave our listeners with bill, what would they be around this topic of accountability?

Bill Berthel: So I think it’s taking a critical look and essential look at what are the feedback mechanisms used in your organization or on your team. And what does that look like? Is it more score keeping, or is it, is it more. Full of, you know, this idea of dignity, creating a better quality of a conversation instead of, oh, you missed this and just calling that out.

Second. How do you look at your leadership role as a support function or a service function? How are we supporting our people towards those goals? Are accomplishments, not locking anything up, not jamming anybody up, but proactively offering our support, creating those proactive check-ins. Last, but not least.

I think it’s watching the weight of our judgment, really recognizing that our seat as leaders and organizations holds a power and that, that power lands differently sometimes than we intend it to. So to make sure that we’re, we’re really thoughtful about how we’re entering those conversations and sharing our judgment when it comes to accountability.

Ralph Simone: I love those. I think the only thing I’d add is we, I think we need to collectively do a better job in co-creating the realistic commitment so that there’s ownership and belief and support of driving towards that outcome from the outset.

Bill Berthel: Love it. I love it. Make sure to check in for upcoming podcasts right here at Get Emergent every other week.


Note: The preceding text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it is incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors

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