shadow-accountability-ei-leadersTo understand accountability is to take a giant leap forward in understanding Emotionally Intelligent Leadership. Accountability is defined as the quality of being answerable to another for actions taken. You can answer to yourself or can answer to another individual or group. At the core of it, a promise is made: You agree to answer for an action you have agreed to take. Why, then, is it so difficult to keep our agreements, be responsible and hold accountability?

  • Accountability has a bad rap.  When you think of the phrase, “I’m going to hold you accountable,” it conjures up fear of blame when something goes awry.
  • It can be elusive when you make agreements you don’t intend to keep.
  • If you shy away from direct, neutral and fact-based discussions, you may find it hard to ask for accountability or deliver the bad news when others don’t keep up their end of the deal.
  • Accountability is impossible if you are worried about hurting someone’s feelings or committed to enabling others.

While all of the above is true, another reason it may be difficult is because of Shadow Accountability. If I ask you to be accountable to an agreement, I have to be accountable too. I may not want to be pinned down. So, if I don’t pin you down, perhaps you won’t pin me down either. If I’m loose with deadlines, success metrics, and iron clad agreements, then you can be loose with me also.  Shadow Accountability is a form of collusion that keeps us safe, just in case things don’t work out. When we are in the shadow things don’t get done, integrity is damaged, resistance ensues and we all go around and around on the same spiral.

Let’s shed some light on the shadow by taking a look at agreement guidelines:

  1. Create criteria for yourself so that you understand when to say yes, or no, to an agreement. When you make agreements you intend to keep, you have more invested in the outcome.
  2. When you make the agreement, recognize that you have 100% responsibility for the outcome – no 50/50 or 60/40, you have 100%!  And the other person has 100% as well. That’s 200% effort towards achieving the agreement.
  3. Ask specific questions to make a solid agreement. Start with the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where and why). Loosely stated agreements can fall apart quickly. Success can be achieved more quickly when all parties are clear about the steps and outcome.
  4. Check in on progress. Not to be confused with micromanagement, when you check in you offer consistent support, create collaboration opportunities, become a brainstorming partner or simply offer encouragement.
  5. Don’t mandate the agreement. People are more energized and committed when they feel they have ownership and control. Let all parties name and claim their action steps. Then, make sure to acknowledge success.

Accountability is at the core of business ethics, and the ability to create a culture of accountability and responsibility is a mark of an Emotionally Intelligent Leader. How has personal accountability played a role in your life? We’ve all been let down and we’ve all missed deadlines. We’ve also all been at the mercy of mandated timelines. How have your experiences of accountability impacted your actions and attitudes or the actions and attitudes of others? Can you recognize when the shadow appears and the back door of excuses opens? The next time you are making an agreement and want to hold yourself or others accountable, take a look at the five suggestions in this post.

When you continue to shed light on the shadow, make agreements you intend to keep, and allow yourself to be specific, your leadership will shine.