Being Accountable Is A Good Thing


Thanks to the global financial crisis and public displeasure there is a greater call today than ever for accountability amongst business and political leaders. Too right! Here in the UK the press is being held accountable for the various phone hacking scandals. So far this has led to the demise of the newspaper, News of the World.

The majority of those who need to be held accountable are indeed us men. Whether it’s just that the majority of leaders in such arenas today are still men and/or men have managed to avoid being held accountable, I don’t honestly know. One thing for sure…when it comes to accountability being required, there are no excuses.

Every leader from the halls of power to the halls of our homes needs to be held accountable.

My dad set the standard in my brother and me from the time we could talk. When we took up sport he held us accountable. If our grades slipped at school sport stopped. Hockey. Soccer. Golf. Squash. Swimming. Etc. Needless to say we kept up our grades. Our report cards proved that. My dad taught us to look after our bodies through sport. He and my mom didn’t want us to smoke. They set us a challenge as early teenagers that if we did not smoke until we were 21 they would reward us with $1000. What teenager back then would not do anything for money?! Such a plan ensured that we would keep each other accountable (sibling competition reared its head). We both made a cool $1000.

Accountability can come from various means – spouses, professional bodies, leaders, parents, children, siblings, teachers, team-mates etc. As a veterinarian I was accountable to colleagues, clients and the professional association. As a competitive swimmer I recall one coach who would set a practice session where if one person failed to do the set and/or follow instructions we all had to start over. Peer-led accountability works wonders. It only took one person to mess it up for everyone (our practices were killers). With up to 50 people relying on one another to do it right, any trespasser never lived it down (and only made the mistake once). It sure made the coach’s job easier!

So here’s a question for you…

Who is holding you accountable?

Everyone needs to be held accountable – for their sake, for the sake of those who matter most and for the sake of society as a whole.

I call on people to be obsessed citizens, forever questioning and asking for accountability. That’s the only chance we have today of a healthy and happy life.

Ai Weiwei

When I was in the army I was held accountable on many levels. When I was commanding my unit my accountability was to my men, my corps, the garrison commander and the British government. As my unit was responsible for the provision of dog security theatre-wide, I had overall accountability for the standard of security provided. It didn’t rest with my men who were the actual experts. It rested with me.

At home my kids keep me accountable. Right now we have a big focus on table manners. As we hold them to account for talking with their mouth full, for elbows on the table and chewing with their mouth open, they are allowed to challenge my wife and I when we err. Just today I got busted at dinner. I humbly accepted this and apologized to my family. As men, for us to lead in the home, we must lead by example in all things.

My wife also keeps me accountable. I have set a budget for the business of which she has a part to play. Part of our agreement is that I will not spend any money over a set limit without asking her first. She can access my credit card bill at any time. Nancy can also ask me at any time if I have strayed on the internet to pornography sites. Whilst there is accountability software that you can purchase for this purpose, nothing beats your wife keeping tabs. I also have a pastor who keeps me accountable. Can you have too much accountability when it comes to the integrity of your marriage? I don’t believe so.

The provision of accountability is a core benefit of having a coach. I have operated for the past 10+ years as a business and executive coach. One of the first questions I ask clients is,

“As you hold your people or family accountable, who is holding you accountable to make sure you are doing what you are supposed to?”

In many instances, the reply has been, “No one.” As my role is to be objective and impartial, these leaders soon value just what accountability can do for them at work, rest and play. Whilst most clients wanted me to help grow their business, I had one client who, in her words said, “I took you on solely for your size 12 shoes”. She just wanted me to keep her accountable to what she said she was going to do. She had a plan and a tight time-table. Only once did she slip up. I photocopied my foot and sent it to her saying, “Bend over because here is your swift kick as requested!” She laughed and posted it above her desk as a reminder.

As I have learned personally and through clients, few people can hold themselves accountable. Why? Because no one is perfect. Not one. We all fail at some point. Please note though…We fail less and better when there is accountability in place.

Truly the buck does stop with you. In the words of Dave Meyer,

When it comes to accountability you do what is required or it requires what is due.

If you let accountability slip, it will catch up with you. Look at the price paid for failed accountability, Enron, Lehman Brothers, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong. and seemingly countless politicians etc. Justice demands accountability. Accountability will keep you and me true. Let’s take it like men. Accountability is in our own best interests and in the interests of those we lead. We need more of it. Your success depends on it.

Your Powerplay

Review what accountability you have in place at work and at home. Where there isn’t any, put it in place. Today.

A Bonus…

Here is a video with a great tool you can use at work, rest and play to keep one another accountable. Enjoy.


Dr Richard Norris


Dr Richard Norris is a competitive swimmer who swims 4.5 hours a day, 6 days a week amassing a stunning 69,000 metres every week!

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