So…what is accountability anyway? According to Business Dictionary.com, accountability means:
The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner. It also includes the responsibility for money or other entrusted property.
It seems as though the definition remains the same regardless of the circumstances or viewpoint of the individual and organization involved. The rub comes in the applicability of accountability or the state of being held accountable, liable or otherwise answerable.
We generally think of accountability as existing in two forms… the one where we are held accountable or the one where we hold ourselves accountable. All too often, being held accountable is usually the most common form we experience. It is the speeding ticket, the bill in the mail, the friend who won't speak to you, the professor who issues a low grade, the boss who will not promote you, the co-worker who makes life difficult. These are all examples of externally imposed accountability. Rarely do we see people raise their hand and say, "my bad and I will make it right." It is paying that speeding ticket and modifying your driving behavior, paying the bills on time, apologizing to that friend you might of hurt, studying hard for that exam, making your boss look great, stepping up and having courageous conversations with co-workers that are all examples of self-imposed accountability.
It is interesting to note that accountability is very much like quality… often difficult to measure but you definitely know when it is not there. Lack of accountability within organizations is a leadership issue that requires immediate correction as it will be disastrous to the successful completion of the organizational mission. If no one is accountable for driving the bus or driving the bus safely, the likelihood is high that the bus will not be driven and if it is, it will not be driven in a way that is conducive to the wellbeing of the passengers. On the other hand, a leadership approach that is focused on too much on accountability creates a high level of fear within the organization. This is where bad news is suppressed and the kingdom comes crashing down because of false or inaccurate reporting.