The Principle of Accountability™

Have you ever tried to “hold someone accountable”– and found that the person’s performance got worse instead of better? The Principle of Accountability makes holding someone accountable impossible.

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Lots of leaders have had this experience. Before we start talking about “holding people accountable,” a tactic that usually backfires, maybe we need to ask ourselves a more fundamental question: What does that word “accountability” really mean?

Accountability, very simply, means keeping your commitments to people. Period.

We are responsible for things. We are accountable to people. That’s a big difference!

There is an important corollary to this simple-sounding distinction, a corollary that many leaders overlook: Accountability is not a one-way street. Before we as leaders can expect anyone on our team to be accountable to us for anything…we must be accountable to them. That is the reality we all face as leaders and what The Principle of Accountability is all about. If we have not made and kept meaningful commitments to others, we cannot expect them to make and keep meaningful commitments to us.

So. Contrary to popular belief, accountability is not a tool for getting what you want from people, when you want it. It is a choice about how to live your life, a choice that each and every person must make for themselves.

We cannot force someone to be accountable. We cannot demand that people be accountable and get a positive result from them. We cannot hold someone else accountable. Leaders may not want to hear this. But it is the truth.

As individuals, we have to make an active decision that we want to live an accountable life. We have to decide that we want the rich relationships that both produce accountability and flow from living a life of accountability. We can only inspire accountability. We can never bring it into existence by demanding it. This is the Principle of Accountability. It is as predictable and as essential as any of Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, or Einstein’s theory of relativity. And fortunately, it is a little easier to understand!

The Principle of Accountability tells us that, in an organization, we can create a place where people want to be accountable. We do that through designing and supporting the right organizational culture. Just as with an individual’s character, an organization’s culture is either created by default or by design. A default organizational culture is one in which anything goes. When an organizational culture is created and sustained by design, on the other hand, that means it has been defined by certain organizational values that people want to buy into. As leaders, it is our job to a) identify those values and to b) live both the values and the non-negotiable commitments that connect to them, day after day after day.

If we do those two things, we will find that we are supporting our people, strengthening our relationships with them, and creating an environment where accountability is deeply woven into every interaction — and indeed into the very fabric of the workplace.

To find out just how accountable you are right now, and what you need to do next to master accountability in your world, visit and take a free sixty-second personal accountability quiz.


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