Early in our marriage, Jen told me that she wanted the truth about everything. I’d give her the truth. She’d get angry and react. I’d stop giving the truth. She’d get angry and react.
I told her that if she wanted me to be committed to revealing the truth, I needed her to be committed to not giving a negative reaction. I’m human. I will take the path of least resistance. My wife being pissed at me is not that path. Lying is.
An account is defined as a report or description of an event or experience. Accounting uses numbers to tell the story of what a business experienced in the last week, month, quarter, year, etc…
Accountability is the ability to give an account of an event or experience. If we threaten to judge someone for their account, we reduce accountability. If we accept the account as given and without judgement we increase accountability.
If I know someone is going to get on me for drinking, doing drugs, womanizing, cursing, stealing or anything else, they will be the last person to hear about it from me (I don’t do these things. Any more. Except cursing. And drinking.).
People talk about the need for accountability when problems of misbehavior and corruption arise. It comes about because we didn’t encourage accountability in the first place. When people talk accountability, they are really talking about tracking, judging and correcting (or punishing).
Accountability is like a compass. Our accounts of the past help us guide our future. We veer off course for longer when we don’t have someone we can give those accounts to freely. When we’re thinking of correction or punishment we’re past accountability.
When we tell the story of what we lived we free ourselves from the bondage of that story. It’s not an all at once event. It’s over time with repeated revealing of the story. This is one of the successful elements of 12 step groups. No matter how you screwed up, you can come tell your story and be accepted as a human being.
Airlines have systems in place that allow pilots to report flight events without fear of retribution. It works specifically because there’s no punitive consequences.
Do you know someone who you think needs some accountability? It could be an employee. It could be your CFO. It could be your friend. Maybe someone you know needs someone to hear their account. A person to hear how they screwed up. Give them a chance to give their account. It allows them to move past it.
You don’t need to provide answers or solutions. You just need to provide an empathetic ear and tell them they can come to you. They’re already kicking themselves in their ass. They don’t need you to do it, too.
Over time you can ask them how they want to write the next chapter of the story. And help them figure out what to do next.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences for bad behavior. I’m saying that judging people as bad encourages people to hide their behavior longer and produces more damage. You can do a lot more to correct the situation that you know about than the one you don’t.
Redefine accountability. You might find people correct themselves.
P.S.- Jen and I are more open and honest than ever. We learned she didn’t want to know everything. And I learned that I need to take the chance of pissing her off sometimes.
- What Management 2.0 Looks Like (blogs.hbr.org)
- Harvard Business: The Price of (Not) Speaking Truth to Power (blogs.hbr.org)