Accountability: What does this word really mean? How do we measure accountability? Who is really accountable? Who holds a person accountable for their actions and deeds? Is everyone accountable in one way or another or maybe no one is accountable and we are just moving through space and time with rules for living created by the individual with no checks or balance system. In this example there appears to be far too many questions and not enough answers. That, I believe is the essence of accountability. We should own the answers in order to be accountable. It is much easier to ask the questions than it is to provide the answers. That takes ownership, responsibility and accountability for our actions.

I am sure that when we look in a dictionary we can find a definition for accountability. I am sure that through this definition we will gather enough of the raw definition to understand to some degree the meaning of accountability but unfortunately, these words do not really define accountability. If we really understand the meaning of the definition provided in a book, then we should be able to see these words in action in our work. While we may read and understand the definition, we still do not understand the true meaning of accountability.

In my work I am accountable for goals, outcomes, my staff, processes we use, the way we provide service and how we might move forward the future. If the group fails it is my responsibility and not the responsibility of someone who is working for me. I own the answers to the questions. I own the outcomes of our service. When it all fails I am the one who controlled the failure. But still; how is this accountability measured?

Accountability is measured by others. The measurement of accountability may be defined or assumed or even calculated in some specific collection of data but the true measurement of accountability is determined and measured by those we serve or report to or work with or measure up to in one form or another. In other words, we cannot measure accountability without input from another person. We cannot measure accountability without receiving something that determines the level of our value provided to others. Accountability that is left unchecked will result in organizations and leadership who are out of control.

If we leave everything to the judgment of those providing the service or product without any checks and balances then we do not have accountability. Out of control leaders who are not accountable to anyone will eventually run an organization into the ground. This is when boards of directors must hold their officers accountable for their actions. High turnover, mishandling of funds, building of false truths, honoring incompetence as excellence are all indicators of a person who is not accountable and out of control. In all of my jobs over the past 40 years I would have been terminated if any of these infractions were exhibited. The truth is that I should have been terminated.

My supervisors, for the most part, held me accountable to do the job and do the job the right way. There were exceptions to be sure but in those cases it was the supervisor that was not accountable and therefore did not hold anyone accountable. In those cases my supervisor was eventually terminated and replaced with what was perceived to be someone more accountable for their actions. In other words, they were held accountable by others. I do not see this happening much in our current settings. Too many individuals are permitted to do as they wish without any check or balance in place. It is, unfortunately, a sign of the times and is much more common than anyone would want to admit. It is apparent that no one really wants to stand up and stop this craziness. Strength of character, a willingness to listen to all sides of the issue, understanding that tough decisions in business come with a price and that accountability is good for business are all qualities of GREAT leadership and/or management. The time to stop the madness is now. Take a stand, make others accountable for their actions and stop this willingness to overlook the signs of an out of control leader or manager. Every day that this does not happen is another day toward complete destruction of the organization.

About Jim Jones

Jim received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in Human Resource Development and has over 40 years of management experience in 5 different industries. He has consulted for Raytheon, Century 21 and Motorola. He retired in 2005 as the Sr. VP, Human Resources for Trident Health System (an HCA facility). His specialty is talent-based organizational development.. Jim has recently accepted a position with Shorter University as the Associate Vice President for Online and Professional Education. Shorter University's primary campus is located in Rome, Georgia. His role will include the strategic management of online programs for the university to include the College of Adult and Professional Programs located in Rome and Atlanta. Dr. Jones is looking forward to helping change the lives of those he touches every day in the pursuit of excellence in adult education. This includes students, faculty and staff.
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