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Accountability, You Have It

Accountability is getting to be almost as popular a phrase as that dreaded “empowerment” word was in the 1990’s. You remember when the solution to every problem was to empower this or that group, as if the answer to crime was to give criminals more guns and ammunition. Thankfully, that empowerment phase is over but now we have to grapple with the new age of accountability.

In some areas more accountability is clearly a good thing, especially when it comes to elected officials and government bureaucrats. The Conservatives new Accountability Act brings in a series of consumer and citizen protections against governments run amok, like what happened in the sponsorship scandal. It also tries to temper the influence of big money in election campaigns and limits the role of powerful lobbyists that many feel were the inner cabinet during the Liberals reign of error.

In business we have seen a new rise in accountability, even amongst some of the most secretive multinational corporations, at least in terms of their finances and executive compensation. This too is a welcome sign of hope for a new era in corporate responsibility and accountability.

But in both government and business circles the changes to their views of accountability were not brought about by authorities who saw the light of their wrongful ways, but rather they have been thrust upon them by electors and regulators who simply got fed up with shady dealings that seemed to benefit these interests a lot more than the electorate or shareholders they were expected to protect. They came about because of scandal and criminal acts that forced police, regulatory bodies, and a relatively unaware public to care enough to take action. Deathbed conversions to qualities like honesty, transparency, and accountability may relieve the conscience of the accused, but they do little to convince me of their intention to change.

Accountability in corporate or political life will only really solidify when personal accountability becomes an asset that is respected, valued, and demanded of any individual who wishes to engage in any form of public life, whether that is in elected office or in the corporate boardroom. To me personal accountability means a few different things.

Personal accountability means that we take responsibility for our actions and decisions and anything that results from these actions. The consequences as well as the glory, the punishment as well as the reward. What stops us from doing that today? A number of things actually. They include a lack of examples to follow in our everyday lives, lack of practice in using accountability in any aspect of our lives, resistance to being held responsible for our mistakes, and the basic general theory of all business and corporate etiquette: “Cover Your Ass” (CYA).

CYA is more than a theory in many enterprises; it has become a way of life. Do just enough so that you won’t get blamed. Don’t do anything extra that might leave you open to responsibility later. Keep your end of the paperwork clean and don’t ever leave your backside exposed.

If we want to shift from the CYA to a truly new era of accountability we must focus on making individual accountability a tangible and real asset that people will aspire to have and practice in all aspects of their lives we need to take a number of basic steps. They include:

* Moving from assigning blame to accepting responsibility
* Moving from finding fault to creating learning opportunities
* Moving from walking away to taking credit for our choices
* Letting go of our need to always be right and admitting our mistakes
* Living up to our responsibilities at work, at home, and within our communities
* Setting our own goals for personal accountability

Those are all simple steps that each of us can take today to begin the shift to personal accountability, but none of them are easy to commit to or to practice on a regular basis. That’s why we will need to recruit others around us, especially at work, in order to stay on the right track. Two people working to improve their individual accountability can create a dynamic, a synergy for change, that will not only propel them forward, but cause a momentum for an accountability change within a section, department, or whole organization.

You can also seek out others who practice the key elements of accountability in their personal and professional lives and learn from them. Most people of principle are happy to share their knowledge and experience with you and the only thing they will usually ask from you is that you pass it along to others. Which is the final piece to creating real change in this area.

People learn by watching how other humans behave and act. If they see people sliding down the slippery slope, they will imitate those behaviours. If, however, they see people taking responsibility for their actions and being accountable for their decisions, they are just as happy to follow that route. Accountability belongs to you.


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