I often use the example of a surgical suite to illustrate the power of personal accountability each of us has to own our role in the jobs we accept in exchange for pay. If you were the person getting the surgery, what mindset do you want on the part of each person in that surgical suite and recovery room for a good outcome? No doubt, you would favor a mindset of 100% personal accountability on the part of each person who was going to be involved. And, if you want to take it further, to the recovery unit, everyone totally owning their role in your recovery is likely desired. Yes?
And what about your role in getting better? Your family’s role? Your support system in general? Everyone has a role, but does everyone live up to their 100% personal accountability for that role? No. It’s not possible unless roles are clear, defined and agreed to. And who does that? Who calls for role clarity? No one. Instead what we get is “I did MY part. I can’t control these other people and I certainly don’t have time or incentive to do any more than my part.” If there is an adverse event during the surgery, does everyone run to “their part”?
The analogy of the surgical suite is where I suggest the story begins and the learning ends. The abdication of personal accountability for “the whole” is our undoing -- “I did my part”. This is a tragic statement in an environment of supposed “teamwork” however true it is. Real teamwork is so rare. I see more examples of real teamwork when a team is working to cover its collective rear end than to solve problems and own what is going, or has gone, wrong. The finger-pointing, denial and blaming are a function of poor to non-existent leadership.
Leadership that does not set an example of personal accountability for bad results is not leading.
We need to look no further than the need for “Reputation Managers” as a professional service when things at the top go very, very wrong.
A team owns the RESULT individually and collectively at the same time. And, most importantly a team collectively owns the result UP FRONT. “We all own the result 100%.” Granted, you cannot control the behavior of others, but as a “team member” you stand in support of a good result. That result is agreed on. If each team member executes on their role, as agreed, the chances of a “good outcome” increases significantly. All eyes on the prize. That’s the easy part.
The hard part is when someone isn’t clear on their role, goes off the page, or otherwise sends the “you’re not the boss of me” message loud and clear to teammates each and every day. In real teams, there is an intervention by the team immediately. In fake teams a manager has to use his or her authority to address the rogue player and spend time rescuing, fixing and saving the work of under performers who cannot be held to account by the team. Go back to the surgical suite and put yourself on the table again. Things are going sideways and someone thinks “It’s not my place to call out that this surgeon missed a step, or needs help, or didn’t catch that communication from the circulating nurse. And besides, I can’t do their job for them. I have my 100% they need to have theirs.” See what’s missing? The 100% personal accountability for the whole.
How do I fill the hole you can drive a truck through in our collective personal accountability and create real teams?
Who can’t do this? It eludes me in today’s work environment what leader is unable to press the re-set button and own, act on and answer for the outcome of his or her leadership without fault, blame or guilt? Start with telling the truth. Leaders are not unable to do this, they are unwilling. Why? From what I can see, in their experience, it doesn’t pay. It doesn’t pay to ensure real teams are at play in the organization. It doesn’t pay to invite and give permission to employees to support each other, call out lapses of accountability or performance for the good of the whole, have hard conversations about the straight truth as to why the agreed upon results needed are not happening.
Lack of real teaming in corporate cultures is the result of an unwillingness to live one’s 100% personal accountability.
It is as simple as that.
Unwillingness is not inability. Unwillingness is a choice. That’s not good or bad, unwillingness to start with personal accountability simply predicts outcome. Unwilling to live one's personal accountability is draining and tiring. If you have ever been a member of a high-performance team you know this is true. High-performance teams are energizing and challenging and create an accountable environment you look forward to being in. If you are on a tired team. Look in the mirror and ask yourself "What am I willing to do to change this or get out of this?" You need go no further than your truth and then decide your next step.
“Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, we're afraid!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, We will fall!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
And so they came. And he pushed them. And they flew.”
- Guillaume Apollinaire