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Defining Healthy Accountability

What does it truly mean to hold someone accountable if we take away the concept of “you’re fired”?  

In the most recent episode of The Good Leadership Podcast, my colleague Paul Batz and I discussed: what does healthy accountability really mean? 

Traditionally, accountability has been viewed as negative and punitive, and synonymous with consequences for not meeting expectations. Along with that, it’s often subjective based on people’s character of whether or not they have an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility to account for one’s actions.  

What is Healthy Accountability?

To better understand healthy accountability, we assembled a diverse steering team comprised of 15 members who are volunteering their time, energy, and funds to the Accountability Research Project. Through their initial perspectives, we are shaping the direction of the project.  

At our first steering team meeting, we split the team into groups of three, and asked them to write down statements about how they currently view accountability. These were their first responses:  

  1. Accountability is trust based: frequently communicating, and consistently rewarded – avoids consequences.  
  1. The art of possibility: leading from every chair.  
  1. It is about consistency, routines, trust, vulnerability, feedback, and belonging in a culture of reward, recognition, communication and clarity.  
  1. Consistently providing productive feedback, rather than punitive consequences.  
  1. Taking ownership for an error, and knowing who is impacted by this error.  
  1. Delivering on what was said and asking for help or checking in with others.  
  1. Allowing others to inspect your work because you have shared goals, and seek focus and clarity to achieve those goals.  
  1. Personal connections that bring out the best in one another.  
  1. Clear roles on a team that is connected, communicative, and disciplined in a culture of curiosity, trust, respect, and grace.  

There’s no question that these statements are powerful; however, there is room for coherence and alignment. As we worked through the starting point for the definition of healthy accountability with the steering team, this question arose: should the word “accountability” go away forever?  

The answer is no. People want to know that they’ve accomplished something good. As leaders, we can reframe the concept of accountability into something positive. It’s our job to role model the power of positive, healthy accountability and provide feedback that facilitates growth and development.  

Interested in contributing to the Accountability Research Project? Your organization can contribute! Email to discover how you and your organization can be involved. You can also take our LinkedIn survey and join us in exploring the definitions of healthy accountability.  

For more insights, listen to the full podcast here.   

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