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In principle, accountability is comparing expectations with actions, what we hoped would happen against what actually happened. It requires that expectations are written. It requires that actions are evaluated in light of the expectations. And there’s another requirement. When we are accountable we say out loud that things were achieved as expected or that things were not achieved as expected. We don’t ignore successes or transgressions, we account for them.

Accountability done right is very helpful for personal and group development. It pushes us to be thoughtful about our expectations and to learn from our shortcomings.

Accountability done wrong creates conflict, like when I publicly hold someone accountable for something that they didn’t sign up for, or when I secretly carry an expectation or a grudge. It also causes conflict when a deed goes undone that someone did sign up for but no one calls it out; no one points out that the action was out of sync with the expectation. Accountability done wrong causes resentment, confusion, and unfairness.

Practical Tip: If you want to hold someone accountable, first ensure that there is shared understanding about the expectation. Write it down. Do not judge against someone for not living up to unclear, or even imagined, expectations.

It works well when we publicly acknowledge successes of others and failures of self. When someone else achieves an expectation, notice and point it out. When you fail to achieve an expectation hold yourself accountable, be the first to notice and acknowledge the failure, and take pressure off others to do so.

– Craig Freshley

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