The Accountable Me

2015-07-15 14:30

I was chatting to some colleagues the other day, and one of them mentioned that politicians should be accountable to the public who elected them. I immediately burst out laughing. The majority of these politicians do not know the meaning of the word, let alone how to spell it! If they do, then they do not model accountable behaviors. Accountability has become a forgotten trait of leadership. Very few of these politicians know that along with authority and responsibility comes accountability.

Nearly three years after 34 Lonmin miners were shot and killed by police at Marikana (South Africa), President Jacob Zuma recently released a report on the massacre’s causes. The blame game immediately started, and the key question was who should be held accountable for that watershed moment. Some suggested the President and his Minister of Police should take (political) accountability. Some thought the Deputy President (then board member of the mine) should be accountable, whilst others were vocal in that the National Police Commissioner must account for the killings. Maybe AMCU or NUM or even Lonmin should take accountability, the debate continues. I don’t know who should be held accountable, except that lives were lost on that fateful day.

It’s not just in politics, a culture of non-accountability has crept in everywhere. It is now okay to pass the buck. We are now accustomed to excuses for failure to deliver on expectations. People are no longer prepared to admit to errors, but quick to take credit even where it is not deserved. As a working professional, I can attest to erosion of accountability in the workplace. There seem to be no obligation on individuals to account for their activities, accept responsibility for them and take ownership of the resulting implications, good or bad. Accountability is a noun that refers to accepting responsibility, and it can be personal or public. Accountability is demonstrated when you own up to the ultimate result, good or bad, regardless of whether you are the one to deliver the result. For example, a CFO is ultimately responsible for the integrity of financial statements of an organization even though it was prepared by accountants.

But why accountability? Accountability is the driving value that outlines how we make commitments to one another, how we measure and report our progress, how we interact when things are on track or go wrong and how much ownership we take to get things done. It is the engine that runs relationships within organizations; it is key to results and success. Geoffrey James wrote “A culture of non-accountability, even in seemingly small matters, can lessen your standing and wind up costing you customers or career advancement”. A person assigned the responsibility is accountable for meeting their commitments and producing results.

So how do we cultivate a culture of accountability? My experience in the workplace has taught me the following -

    1. It starts with me – before I point a finger at other people, I have to look at myself first. Personal accountability says I cannot demand what I cannot give. Most of us are quick to blame others for our circumstances. The truth is I should look at myself first. Instead of adopting the victim mentality, I should check what I could have done to make the situation better. I am a big advocate of self-leadership. Any form of leadership has to start with self-leadership. If I cannot lead myself, how on earth will I be able to lead others (including my immediate family).
    2. Don’t wait until things start going wrong – the best time to address issues of accountability is when things are going well, when no one is in trouble yet. It is essential to institute guidelines for accountability right at the beginning.
    3. Insist on ownership – it is essential that tasks or responsibilities should be allocated to individuals in a manner that would transfer ownership to those individuals. Taking ownership means you hold yourself accountable for your actions and how you do your job. Tim Thompson wrote “When you take ownership at work you are in essence creating a perception of a problem solver and that’s exactly what employers look for in the next generation of leaders”.
    4. Align end-goals to tasks / responsibilities – this will ensure balance between expectations (or goals) and tasks allocated to individuals. As a leader of a business, it is imperative to assist your sub-ordinates prioritize their tasks in relation to your company’s overall goals. This permits sub-ordinates to feel more structured and capable in the tasks they are assigned.

I cannot imagine No. 1 implementing my 4-step action above to his executive, why would he even read my blog in the first place? I also realize accountability is often viewed as punishment. It should not be driven by a fear of reprimand or reprisal. It is a culture that should be fostered within any organization. It is about improving results, delivery and efficiency. If we had accountable leaders, we would have less service-delivery protests in the townships, we could have saved a lot of government property that were vandalized and destroyed by masses of our people who are just looking for accountability. I came across a fascinating quote: “Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to results”.

Huzlet Sbusiso Mabasa (#HSM) @sbusisomabasa

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