Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
October 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Accountability as a Teacher

Accountability attracts a lot of attention these days. Everywhere I go leaders tell me they want more of it but often they don't really know what it means or why it's important. Let's start with a classic definition: accountability simply means to be required to account for one's conduct. It doesn't mean to be penalized. There are times when being accountable can lead to a penalty, but not always. Often when someone fails and readily accounts for their conduct, without making excuses, a good leader will help the individual learn the lesson and move on.

There are team reasons accountability is important, however with this installment we'll look at why it is important to the individual who is expected to be accountable, starting with the idea that accountability is a good teacher.

Some years ago our youngest daughter Hayley had an accountability epiphany that illustrates this idea well. For many years Hayley struggled with school. Term after term she missed assignments, submitted sloppy work and prepared poorly for tests (yes, Hayley has approved this message.)

Each term Sarah and I met with Hayley's teachers to hear much the same report, "Hayley is a great young person and a good leader, but, she is so far below her academic potential – she is so much brighter than her marks." Oh how we hated going to those meetings! After each one we'd return home to talk to Hayley about what we'd learned and each time she met our comments with an amazingly wide array of excuses. Some might say Hayley was the queen of excuse makers – it was always the teacher, or the kid in the seat beside her, or the what happened on the playground, and on and on - you get the idea.

Then for one magical term Hayley made some big changes and turned it all around. In just one term her marks went from 50's to 85's and 90's. It seems she decided to get serious about school. That term I had to go the the interviews on my own. The teachers said much the same thing, except there was no "but", this time they said, "and she's in the top ten per cent of our class academically." I remember rushing home to tell Sarah, "Honey, you missed the one we've been waiting for all these years!"

A few days later I had Hayley in the car with me. I looked across at her and told her we were so proud of her. Looking back she said, "Dad, I figured something out." To which I replied, "OK Hay, what was that?" She looked straight at me and said, "It was me!"

I nearly drove off the road in laughter. After all those years of excuses, Hayley figured it out. It wasn't the teachers or the other students or anything else that was responsible for her grades – she was the problem! Here's the bottom line: as long as Hayley was making excuses she was not ready to learn and change; when she finally got to the point where she was accounting for her own conduct she was ready to make changes. Accountability is a great teacher.

One could argue that we didn't do all we could to force accountability but that's another story for another day - and children are not employees. When good leaders insist on accountability instead of accepting excuses, even when that includes job loss, they position employees to learn and grow.

The next time you're talking to someone about a poor performance and they meet your concerns with excuses, call them on it. Explain that the only right response is to be accountable – this is the starting point. This you can work with.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you recall a time when accountability helped you learn a lesson and make a change?
  2. When an employee meets your concerns with excuses how are you likely to react?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
October 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor


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