Building readiness to be your best

by  Jane Perdue  |  Leadership Development

accountability“After Tessa got away with simply saying I’m working on project xyz in the daily readout session I started doing the same. No point in doing the extra prep work if I didn’t have to.”

“Didn’t your boss call you out for not sharing issues, obstacles and accomplishments like you’re supposed to?”

“He never said a word.”

This exchange occurred in a meeting in which the company owner was explaining how ineffective the daily readout sessions had become and how the new online data reporting system would fix the communication problems.

After the meeting, I spoke with him one-on-one and asked, “If people fill out their online report the same way Tessa and others handled their verbal report, what will happen?”


“Will they be held accountable for providing the requested information?”

“Look, we ‘re not going to do the whole MBA thing where there’s a rule list a mile long and people get progressive discipline. We’re not that kind of company.”

“I understand that. There are ways, however, to hold people accountable that aren’t that drastic.”

“Like what?”

“Like saying after a meeting, ‘Tessa, I saw you took a shortcut in the readout protocols in today’s meeting. I just want you to know that I noticed, and I know you’ll do better tomorrow and give a full report.’”

Silence again. Then a rueful grin.

“Yeah, absolutely there’s room to have those kinds of discussions. Maybe that’s why I’m not seeing the results I want. I’m so focused on making this company a fun place to work that I neglected to insist on ownership for results.”

Accountability…is a readiness to have one’s actions judged by others and, where appropriate, accept responsibility for errors, misjudgments and negligence and recognition for competence, conscientiousness, excellence and wisdom. It is a preparedness to change in the light of improved understanding gained from others.”  ~Geoff Hunt

Holding people accountable doesn’t require a six-inch thick binder, a mega-sized online database of rules, a bureaucracy, or being a micro-managing jerk. What’s needed is a boss or colleague or pal who has our best interest at heart and who has the character and courage to speak out when we don’t deliver up to our potential.

4 ways to shine the light of accountability

1. Agree on performance requirements at the beginning of the work project. Get very, very clear on outcomes, and talk them through together to assure two-way understanding. If skill and/or commitment gaps exist, devise a plan to close them.

2. Take action the very first time outcomes fall short of defined expectations. Doing so doesn’t make you a bad person. Doing so makes you a good manager. It builds your credibility and many times solves the performance problem, especially if it’s a commitment issue. Some folks like to test and see where the boundaries are. Let them know you expect excellence.

When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice. ~Brené Brown

3. Give people permission to fail occasionally. Forget about perfection. Failure is a magnificent teacher. The key to success is helping people see the light of understanding when they make the same mistake a second time.

Sometimes failure is the opposite of success, but sometimes failure can be the pathway to success. ~David W. Jones

4. Use tough empathy when performance continues to fall below expectations and you know it’s not a lack of skill issue. That’s what leaders do because they know accountability is an incubator for confidence, character and success!


About The Author

Articles By jane-perdue
Jane is a leadership futurist and well-mannered maverick who challenges stereotypes, sacred cows, gender bias & how we think about power. She loves chocolate, TED, writing, kindness, paradox and shoes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Kristy Smith  |  10 Oct 2013  |  Reply

Great post, Jane; on so many levels! I too find that organizations have a difficult time finding that happy medium between super lax and policy overkill. I also find that both types use super definitive words to describe how they want / don’t want the environment to be / be perceived- “fun”, “policy”, “red tape”, which, in my opinion, is precisely why they get stuck being either one or the other. I love to throw out the word “flexible”, which seems to resonate on both ends of the spectrum. Also, I love your 4 points, especially number one. It’s amazing how much mutually setting and agreeing upon performance requirements, from the start, takes care of / eliminates so much of the muck along the way. If you’ve ever read any of my posts you already know what a proponent I am of clear, transparent goal setting in the work place. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us; definite, definite key take away points!

Mike Henry  |  12 Oct 2013  |  Reply

Jane, thanks for the great post. I can’t tell you how much I agree with #3 above. If you won’t let people fail occasionally, and probably more often than you’re even comfortable with, then you’re going to create a place where everyone is tense. I try to tease a bit about some failures so they aren’t repeated. If they’re repeated, then I stop teasing and become more direct. I’m not sure that’s the best way to do it, but it seems to help maintain some balance. Thanks again. Mike…

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