Dear Crucial Skills,
I have a question about accountability conversations and what to value more. Should I allow the person I want to hold accountable to save face by accepting their version of what happened, as long as I am confident that the misstep will not happen again, or should I push until they acknowledge and admit that they did wrong?
Wrestling with Responsibility
Let me begin by sharing a story from my childhood. When I was eight years old, for some reason I thought it would be cool to have glasses, even though I had twenty-twenty vision. My mother took me to my regularly scheduled eye exam. As foolish as I was, I was smart enough to know that you don’t go and fail miserably. So, when I saw an E, I said F. When I saw an I, I said T. When they showed me an O, I said Q and so forth. In the end, the optometrist informed my mother that I would need glasses. With an expression of surprise and subdued enthusiasm, I picked out my frames from a wall of choices.
I can’t remember how long I wore my glasses or when the novelty wore off. I have now aged, and I no longer have twenty-twenty vision. The glasses I now wear not only remind me of the value of good vision, but also of the challenges that come when it is impaired.
Great leaders have great vision—the ability to see situations clearly and the impact these situations will have on future outcomes. Often, for many reasons, leaders suffer from impaired vision. Some leaders are nearsighted, having the ability to see objectives and situations that are close. Others are farsighted and can properly see objectives that are far away. When it comes to accountability, the goal of every leader should be twenty-twenty vision. We should be able to see each situation for its ability to impact objectives that are both near and far.
The nearsightedness of accountability has to do with the immediate results that we seek. The farsightedness of accountability has to do with relationships and processes. If we focus too much on one and not enough on the other, that means our vision is impaired, and our decisions and results may suffer.
For example, an immediate resolution may come with a cost, including weakened relationships and fractured processes even though it allows us to achieve desired outcomes and results. On the other hand, if we are farsighted and focus only on relationships and processes we may jeopardize the results we seek.
Let’s look at your situation with a lens that allows us to clearly see the situation up close and far away. Allowing your peer to “save face” and hoping or trusting that the problem won’t happen again may allow you to achieve the immediate results you seek, but will doing so come at a cost?
What will be the impact should the misstep happen again? And what about your relationship? Will it be easier or harder to address these kinds of situations in the future? I’ve heard it said that we teach others how to treat us. How we deal with accountability issues sets a precedent for future encounters.
With the proper lenses and twenty-twenty vision, we step up to situations like this with an eye on immediate results as well as long-term processes and relationships. Additionally, by making sure accountability is not blurry, we prevent future blindness.
Accountability is about more than making sure people do what they say they will do. True accountability is about helping others be the best version of themselves. It is about helping them make their biggest and best contributions, today and in the future.
As leaders, we can help others identify blind spots so they can more clearly see and achieve objectives that are near and far. We get to influence them and play a part in their personal and professional development. That takes vision. New York Times best-selling author Daniel Pink said, “Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon.” Warren G. Bennis, an American scholar adds, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
I hope this improves your view of accountability and helps as you consider how to handle accountability in the future.
What do readers think? If you have suggestions or ideas, tell us in the comments.