Accountability: Subject to having to report, explain, or justify; being answerable, responsible.
- Webster's Dictionary
What is accountability? Are you accountable? How do you hold others accountable? For several years “Accountability” was stressed as a core value within my organization, the Arkansas National Guard. Our senior leaders stressed accountability, and then leaders were tasked with assuring accountability at all levels. When discussing this with junior leaders, I often was asked about either a definition of accountability (there are lots of them by the way) and to explain accountability in action. Luckily several years ago I researched associated values and characteristics of accountability and was able to share those definitions that hopefully you can include in your leadership discussions in the future.
For military leaders, accountability is defined as, “The requirement for commanders to answer to superiors for mission accomplishment, for the lives and care of their Soldiers, and for effectively and efficiently using Army resources.” Another take on accountability is the definition fromThe Oz Principle:“A personal choice to rise above one's circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving results – to See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It.“ So for the military professional, we are held accountable for mission accomplishment, lives and resources. And according to Connors, Smith, and Hickman we also have a choice to take proactive ownership of the mission, lives, and resources based on our position as a leader.
So how do we do this? Based on research from a leadership survey I used several years ago, accountability can be broken down into four categories and characteristics:
1. Personal Responsibility (Integrity) is the ability to hold ourselves accountable for achieving or not achieving desired results, expecting only the best from our subordinates, and holding ourselves, them and each other to high ethical and moral standards.
2. Commitment (Duty)is the drive to maintain the momentum of operations to achieve results, the excitement about the daily opportunity to make things happen, and the resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best results, no matter how difficult.
3. Candor (Personal Courage)is the acceptance of feedback, the invitation for candid feedback from everyone about their (and our) performance, always wanting to hear the truth, even when it is bad, and the ability to make subordinates feel that they can be honest and open.
4. Servant hood (Selfless Service)is the ability to display the ability to work with others to accomplish the mission, a willingness to serve our subordinates and others in the organization, and a choice to put what is best for our followers and the organization ahead of our personal agenda/ambition.
Now the real question – how do we measure up to these values and characteristics? Years ago I asked that question in a leadership survey with junior leaders in my organization, and the results indicated that we had some room for improvement; no matter how good we are, there is always room for improvement. I invite you to pose questions about accountability to your subordinates if you really want to explore their thoughts and gain a perspective on how leaders measure up. This makes for a great professional development discussion, and can give you and all of us a fresh look at accountability within our organizations.