Who wants to be the Accountability Killjoy?

‘Sooner or later we all sit down to a banquet of consequences’. I was reminded of this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson when Ian and I delivered our challenging coaching session at the World Business & Executive Coaching Summit (WBECS) last Friday. We’d challenged ourselves to freshen up our material and bring in some new perspectives on the various elements of the FACTS coaching model. In preparing for the session I came across the Stevenson quote whilst re-visiting the ‘A’ of FACTS; accountability.

What does it mean to one day sit down to a banquet of consequences? Well, it is a more elegant version of the well-known saying ‘what goes around comes around’ or the biblical version that ‘you reap what you sow’. It seems many wise folk have tried to convince us that when we let ourselves off the hook of accountability, the ultimate repercussions may not fit into the self-created and convenient notion that it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t really count, no-one is looking, it’s not that important, so who cares?

And let’s face the facts, we try to get it away with it every day in all sorts of creative ways, don’t we? I know I’m perfectly capable of ducking and diving to wriggle out of commitments and expectations. Just recently, I took an action from a meeting, said I was going to do it and then deleted it from my to-do list three days later. Nobody will notice that I thought. Just lose it between the cracks and no one will be the wiser. I got away with it. Or did I? Or is someone preparing my banquet of consequences as we speak?

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It seems I am not alone in the ‘getting away with it’ club. Membership of this anyone’s-welcome, free-for-life society is positively over-subscribed. I recently attended an excellent Vistage speaker session with the speaker Jim Alampi on the topic of Lencioni’s best-seller ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’. There were 200 CEOs and business owners in the room. After Jim had taken us through the theory of the five dysfunctions he challenged everyone to complete Lencioni’s team assessment questionnaire to see which of the five team dysfunctions were most prevalent in our organisations.

‘Hands up if ‘fear of conflict’ is your most critical dysfunction’ he asked. A few hands crept into the air. ‘How about lack of commitment?’. Another smattering of hands. ‘How about absence of trust?’. And so on. ‘I’ve saved the best until last’ he concluded, ‘How many of your leadership teams suffer from avoidance of accountability?’ At this point it was like being back in school when the teacher offered the class a sweet. So many hands went up that Jim was unable to count them and he boomed out in his US drawl ‘I knew that would get you. I’ve done this exercise with countless teams all round the world these past four years and it is always avoidance of accountability that is a team’s most common Achilles’ heel.

So it seems a lot of us are getting away with it and hoping there will not be a banquet of consequences further down the line. The striking fact is that if there are lots of people getting away with it then there are even more people letting us get away with it! It seems we’re all colluding in a festival of unfinished business, loose ends, forgotten commitments and unrealised expectations. What a great party we’re having! Let’s hope it never stops. For who would want to be the accountability killjoy when we’re all having so much fun? Who, having glimpsed the banquet of consequences, would be a brave enough coach or leader to turn on the lights, turn down the music and invite us to face the facts?

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