I’m a strong believer in accountability. I don’t think you can sustain elite success without a high level of accountability. It’s an essential part of high-performing organizations. Accountability is about taking personal responsibility for your actions, and within teams a shared sense of accountability is extremely powerful. Sharing accountability amongst a group creates a very high standard of excellence, assuming you all want elite success. You feel not only a personal responsibility, but you do not want to let your teammates down.
Accountability is not running sprints in the morning because you skipped a class. It’s not doing wall sits because you were late to the weight room or getting pulled out of a game because you jogged back on defense. Those are actions that are meant create accountability on a personal and a team level. So often we associate punishment with accountability that accountability can have a negative connotation, as if it is only something that shows up when we screw up. Accountability is much broader and more impactful then paying a price for screwing up.
I recently had this conversation with J.P. Nerbun on Twitter, after he mentioned that accountability was overrated. I had never heard that before, that accountability was overrated.
We had a good conversation, and I understand his point – that you have to behave the right way when the leader is not around, when there is no threat of penalty. My point, however, is that accountability is exactly how you get to that point – where you can count on everyone to do the right thing even when no one is around. You get there through a high level of accountability within your organization.
On the championship teams I’ve been a part of, accountability is a mindset that affects behavior, more than it is the behavior itself. It is feeling a responsibility to everyone on your team, and to the standards you have established. That mindset is created by necessary consequences when behavior doesn’t meet your standards, and those consequences are always present. But eventually (hopefully) the mindset becomes the norm, and the consequences aren’t necessary.
Despite being the leader as a head coach, and the one responsible for accountability to the standards, I still need accountability myself. While I certainly take pride in giving a great effort and doing my job at a high level regardless of who is watching, a high-accountability environment still keeps me at my best. Great players I have coached have always held me accountable just by showing up and giving their best every day. By doing that, they demanded the best out of not just their teammates, but their head coach as well. Knowing that my staff expects a high standard from me also helps make me better. In an environment where the standards of behavior are very high, I have to take responsibility for my actions.
Without accountability even the best of us can let our standards slip, sometimes without even realizing it. I can feel it myself at times. I don’t need someone threatening me with 7 AM sprints to get me to do my job. But knowing that a group of people are relying on me to be at my best, and I can rely on them for the same, still has an impact on me. I think that environment has an impact on everyone.
We can take personal responsibility without the threat of a consequence. We all should be able to do that. But being accountable to a group of people and a set of standards still drives me, and I think it drives most people who consider themselves competitors. So much of the behavior I exhibit day to day is still driven by an environment of accountability, and my hope is it always will be.