Accountability – the Gift We Fail to Give

Accountability

Here are three very different scenarios, each of them repeated hundreds of times in Christian organizations.  There is a common thread running through them.

1. Imagine that CEO who was extremely successful.  Charismatic beyond what you experienced anywhere else you worked, he was a visionary, a good listener, an effective fundraiser, dependable, honest.  Did he lack anything?  Did he have any flaws at all?  Well, yes, as a matter of fact he did.  He was a humorist, but he had a bad habit of teasing people with humor that was insensitive, that made people feel devalued and embarrassed.  No one ever said anything, of course.   He was successful, and he was the CEO.  Years went by without his ever knowing that he hurt peoples’ feelings with humor.  How could he know?  They always laughed.

2. Or imagine that employee who was a square peg in a round hole.  It was a real shame that he lasted in the job so long.  Unsuccessful and unproductive, he was also unfulfilled.  Yet his immediate supervisor always tried to help.  She was a kind, forgiving person.  Very supportive, the kind of source of authority anyone would love to have.  She thought that people should be left alone to do their job.  She thought of performance reviews as untrusting.  Besides, she found it difficult to talk to this employee about his lack of competencies for the job he held.  Was it his fault?  He didn’t hire himself.  His failure and unhappiness went on and on…

3. Finally, imagine that time you worked for a CEO who was simply abusive of power.  Very personable but never transparent.  He seemed to have another surprise to take you off guard.  When you didn’t support his direction, you were criticized for being disloyal and for not trusting as you should in a Christian organization.   People would leave the organization demoralized.  Even board members would give up when they realized they weren’t going to be able to change the pattern and certainly couldn’t live with the damage it was causing.  Morale was terrible, but no one seemed to be able to do anything about the situation.

It’s obvious from the title of this article and from your own experience that the missing element in these case histories is accountability.

In Christian organizations the most vexing problem we have to deal with is the lack of accountability.  It’s the gift we fail to give to one another.  Perhaps it’s partly the word itself.  A common word, we read it almost every single day on the front page of any newspaper.  But it’s almost used in a negative context.  Accountability is discipline.  Accountability is punishment.  Accountability is bad.  As Christians taught to forgive people who fail, we find accountability to be an unforgiving thing to do.  It certainly doesn’t seem like a gift to give to people.

Accountability is no more than measurement.  It is a neutral term, not positive, not negative.  It is the balance arm in the old-fashioned balance scale illustrated here.  In the Relationship Model it is the process that maintains that delicate balance between authority and resources available on the one side and the expectations of our responsibility on the other side.  Remember that resources include also the competencies that people bring into the workplace with them.

Accountability also enables us to affirm people when they deliver what we expect of them.  So the process of an annual review is a gift to a person whom you might think of as being so dependable that you don’t want to waste the time giving an annual review.  There’s nothing to criticize, you say.  If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.   But there might be something to commend, to reward or to make even stronger.  The strongest employees are sometimes the least likely to receive the gift of accountability.

Accountability is also a gift to people who have flaws they aren’t aware of.  Our humorist above changed his behaviour dramatically when one of the employees with less authority in the office risked telling him the truth about his bad habit.  She gave him a gift.

Accountability is also a gift to the abuser of power.  Even when it leads to the termination of employment it’s a gift to everyone, the abuser and the abused, to disallow destructive and dysfunctional behaviour.  That piercing look that Jesus gave to Peter in the courtyard was a gift that changed his life for the better.

We cheat people when we simply forgive a person instead of holding him or her accountable when wrong has been done.  We also cheat him or her when we hold him or her accountable without a forgiving heart.

And most important, we give a gift to people when we take the time to measure performance and monitor behaviour.  To whom can you give the gift of accountability tomorrow?

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