“Are you accountable?” … “How high is your ‘say-do’ ratio?” I often ask clients these two questions at the onset of our engagement. They’re questions I can almost predict the way most people will answer. And they’re questions most people get wrong.
Take Liza, for example. An executive vice president of a tech giant, Liza was b-u-s-y. Not only did she have to juggle the ever-increasing and constantly-shifting demands at work, Liza was also a wife and the mother of three children under the age of 14. At the onset of our executive coaching engagement, I asked Liza if she thought of herself as accountable. She didn’t hesitate to answer. “Oh, yes,” she said. “If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that accountability is not an issue.” And, like most clients, she was ready to move on to the next question — until I pushed a little further.
What is radical accountability?
When most people hear the word accountable, they equate it with words like conscientious, dependable, reliable. And while accountability does, indeed, involve all of those characteristics, that’s just the beginning. Our definition of radical accountability means not only “doing what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it” — but also, taking ownership of and responsibility for your thoughts, your moods, your behaviors and your results.
Liza was quick to respond to the question because she backed it up with data that, in her mind, proved her accountability: Her management team knew that they could rely on her showing up — and delivering results. She never missed a project deadline at work, and had only taken two sick days over the past four years. She made it to every one of her kids’ parent-teacher conferences (on time). She boasted that last year, she even finished her holiday shopping two weeks ahead of schedule.
I then asked her what kinds of exercise she enjoyed. She smirked. “Well, I joined a gym a few months ago, and told myself I would work out at least three times a week. Let’s just say that hasn’t happened. I’m lucky if I make it there three times a month!” And then, as if on script, she went on to complain about one of her team members who never contributed his share. In order to meet their team’s goals, she often had to work late into the evening to finish the tasks her team member had agreed — but failed — to do. Within five minutes, Liza unwittingly revealed two blind spots in her accountability.
Why is it important?
Accountability drives optimal performance. When you fail to take ownership of your thoughts, you essentially hand over the reins to control your moods. Whether you give that control to another person or a specific situation, you let something (or someone) external determine your mood state. From there, it’s a downward spiral, influencing your behaviors and impacting your results.
And that’s just the beginning. Radical accountability involves owning your part in every interaction. It’s easy to blame your boss for not getting back to you about the strategy report you submitted last week — but did you ask him to confirm receipt, or to respond by a certain date? It’s common to fail to recognize your role in misunderstandings; after all, you see things through your own perspective, one that can be skewed or incomplete. Embracing and embodying radical accountability helps broaden your perspective. It improves your relationships. It eliminates victim-mentality thinking. And it empowers you.
How can you develop radical accountability (in yourself and in others)?
Communication lies at the foundation of radical accountability, starting with the conversations you have with yourself. Recognize the enemies of accountability, including (but not limited to!) avoiding, blaming, complaining, being defensive, rationalizing, justifying, rescuing others, procrastinating and assuming the victim mentality.
Liza rationalized and justified breaking her promise to herself about going to the gym three times a week. She admitted that rescuing her team member was a pretty typical tendency, one she frequently exhibits with her family as well. Because she never let others down, Liza needed time to digest the blind spots in her accountability. She just couldn’t see them, at least at first. As we began our work together, Liza and I took a deep dive into the thoughts that comprised her inner dialogue. It didn’t take long for her to recognize the thoughts that were getting in the way of her accountability — and the toll they were taking on her performance and wellbeing. Better yet, once she developed that keen self-awareness, she was able to change those ingrained thought patterns. She was amazed at the profound difference it made in the way she felt and in the results she experienced.
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As in Liza’s case, many leaders who experience the game-changing power of radical accountability wish they could spread magic accountability dust around the office so that everyone around them could embrace accountability in this way. If only it were that easy. While building a culture of accountability takes time, it can be the pivotal piece in the performance puzzle. Start by developing healthy communication habits, particularly around requests and promises.
Learn how to make effective requests that are crystal clear, leaving no room for false assumptions or misunderstandings. When you’re on the receiving end of a request, ask the right questions to ensure that you understand the scope and expectations. Notice the strength of the promises that you make — and that others make to you. Are they being made with an intent to keep them (a strong promise), or simply to avoid confrontation or short-term awkwardness (a shallow promise)?
Radical accountability begets radical accountability. When you embrace and embody accountability, it shows. And when you expect that level of accountability from others, it pays — in radical dividends, as Liza and her team learned. Once she stopped rescuing her coworker, he stepped up his game, and contributed his fair share. Within a few months, the team was able to consistently exceed its goals. And Liza made it to the gym … three times a week.
Liza’s executive coaching engagement spanned six months. Her 360-degree interview debrief revealed incredible improvement in her leadership abilities, across the board. But in our closing session, she said to me that nothing opened her eyes to the possibility of change as much as that initial conversation about accountability.
Honing your inner game will drive your performance to new levels. Step one involves developing an awareness around your thoughts, moods and perspectives. Our Accountability Mirror™ and MindMastery™ workshops will help you explore the ways you might be standing in your own way, train you to break nonproductive patterns and facilitate success. The transformation is real, and the results can be game-changing.
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