This morning, while I was watching the national news, I started paying attention to the number of reports that involved someone blaming another person for a problem or a mistake. Of course I became overwhelmed with the number. I finally just quit counting. It seems every story involved at least one individual who was trying to place blame on someone else and no one was accepting any responsibility for an action that could have caused or even resolved the problem.
Is it any wonder that a popular topic in the business and human resources world today centers around accountability? But what does accountability mean? For many of us we understand that accountability simply means that you are held responsible for your actions and for the outcome of those actions. This tends to be a fairly punitive and paternalistic perspective.
Accountability from this paternalistic approach seems to be very simple. You do what you are told is the right thing to do and everything will work out. In fact, corporations, schools, and other institutions in the past have been built on this paternalistic culture of command and control. The outcome of these kinds of cultures is a victimization cycle. Many organizations today are trying to move away from this approach. To do so requires a different and more developmental approach to accountability.
In the book, The Oz Principle, authors Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman present a model that talks about accountability being a certain line. Above that line are the steps to accountability and below that line is the blame game. In the blame game we see the victim attitudes like “it’s not my job” or “ignore/deny” it and it will go away. Below the line we also see lots of “finger pointing,” “covering your tail,” “wait and see,” and, the one I see a lot of these days, “confusion/so tell me what to do.” When I was watching the news this morning I saw several of these victimization attitudes portrayed by individuals. And many of these individuals were people with substantial power and authority.
To move away from the blame game and being a victim we need to cross the line and move above it. In the steps to accountability we need to “see it,” “own it,” “solve it,” and “do it.” Even when we are faced with the result of a disaster and are true victims of life’s circumstances, we can still stay above the line. We can still see the issue or difficulty for what it is and face reality. We can own our aspect of the situation and face up to what portion of the situation we can address. By doing this we are now able to solve some element of the situation for ourselves. And by doing something or taking action we have just empowered ourselves to not be victims. In this new perspective of accountability we are now “accountable” to ourselves and for our actions.
Hopefully you can now see that being accountable has a much broader meaning than just doing what is expected or the right thing. It now means that we are co-creators of our lives. While we can’t control all aspects of our lives, we can control our reactions and pro-actions to what happens in our lives. So the next time you hear “it’s not my job”, ask the person how it impacts his or her job. If it impacts the job, then ask what she or he can do to change that impact and when he or she plans to do something to influence the situation.
Until next time, ask yourself how you fall victim of lives circumstances and what you can do to move above the line to accountability.