Holding Others Accountable

Last week, I was confronted by Airrion – someone who knew who I was, but that I’d never met. As soon as the pleasantries and the introduction were behind us, she got right down to business. Yes, she had a bone to pick with me. Her chief complaint (challenge) was that she and her team have grown accustom to reading my blog, to which I normally post new articles every 1-2 weeks. However, it has been over a month since my last post (oops!), and she made it a point to hold me accountable for that. She also inspired me to break my silence and write this piece.

Thank you, Airrion!

As I walked away from our brief encounter, I was immediately thankful for the courage Airrion demonstrated in confronting me and holding me accountable. Especially as leaders, we have a fundamental responsibility to teach and develop others as often as possible, and we must be extremely disciplined about following through on our commitments to others. In this case, I had made an implied commitment to post new articles frequently…one that I am recommitting to at this very moment. One that Airrion, as well as countless others, are evaluating me on every single day.

As I reflect on this issue of holding each other accountable, I am reminded of a time when, as a relatively junior member of our company, I stepped into the middle of a political match between two Presidents. While that may not seem very smart, I earned a great deal of respect and trust for doing it…because I was right.

These two individuals were at war with each other and they were putting their selfish battles on display for the entire company to see. Whereas most people did something between cheering, spectating, and ignoring, I chose the path to hold them accountable as leaders. I pulled them both aside, let them know I was disappointed in their behavior, and encouraged them to keep their petty politics out of the day-to-day business of our organization. Risky? You bet. But it worked. As a general rule, holding each other accountable almost always does.

Holding those around you accountable can be very difficult for many people; however, it doesn’t have to be. Here are my tips for creating a culture of courageous accountability:

#1 – Keep Your Commitments. This seems simple, but it is the most often violated principle of success and leadership. Commitments are easy to make, and they are even easier to break. Be disciplined about the commitments you do make, and ensure that you do everything possible to keep them.

#2 – It Takes A Village. No matter how hard you try to abide by #1, you will never succeed alone. We live in a world more dynamic and challenging than at any time before, and there is absolutely no shame in accepting (even asking for) help every day. In fact, there is only harm in not doing so. The next time you hold someone accountable (or vice-versa), remember this – it takes a village. He who tries to do it alone, will always be just that…alone.

#3 – It Is Never Personal. If someone challenges you by holding you accountable for something you committed to (or to a behavioral standard/ethic), always remember that it is never personal. In fact, the more personal it feels, the more right that person likely is. Being held accountable is a gift, and you should always treat it as such.

#4 – Own It. There is no better way to handle a courageous accountability challenge than simply owning it. Thank the person for holding you accountable, and spend your energy on getting back on track. Just owning the accountability will undoubtedly set you apart as a leader, and it will make those around you feel comfortable helping you by holding you accountable. Remember #2 and #3, and this one is easy.

As with all things, discussing and living by the courageous accountability tips above is the only way to make it work. Consider openly discussing the above as a key cultural value on your team, and you will undoubtedly reap the benefits.

As I write these final lines, I am reminded of the greatest gift of accountability – I feel so much better for getting back on track. Thank you, Airrion, for your Courageous Leadership.

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


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I am the Chief Sales Officer at McGraw-Hill Higher Education. More
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