For What are We Accountable?

Here I wish to address the “what”:   for what are we accountable?   I have suggested in previous postings that we need to know to whom we are accountable and we need to have clarity about how this accountability functions.   But we also need to have a shared understanding of what it is for which we are accountable.   Few things are more frustrating than a lack of clarity on this point; no one is happy or effective if there is a confusion or misunderstand or if there are unstated expectations that may well be unrealistic expectations.  Let’s be upfront and clear about what accountability means.   Everyone who is part of our organizations has the reasonable right to be able to go home at the end of day or move into holiday mode at the end of a cycle of work knowing that with the time and resources at their disposal they were able to fulfill their responsibilities and do them with excellence. 

First, we are accountable for outcomes – and in each role or area of responsibility we should be able to articulate the KPIs, as our accountant friends like to put it – the ‘key performance indicators.’   And with the person to whom you are accountable, there should be an agreed upon list of these key indicators that the job is happening in a way that is acceptable and productive. 

Second I insist that we also need to assess the quality of your working relationships:  are these generative and fruitful; do people enjoy working with you – and do they find it productive to collaborate with you on the key objectives of the institution?  This is no small matter:  however competent and productive you might be, over time it means little if people do not find you cordial, generous and enjoyable to work with.   We need to be accountable for the quality and character of our working relationships. 

Third, matters of character and key relationships are not incidental.   By key relationships, I mean the quality of your marriage, if you are married, and the way in which you relate to your key external relationships.  In my case, my relationship with my aging mother, and my sons and their families.  These matter.  Most of all, the quality and consistency of my marriage.  As a leader in this institution, my marriage is not a purely private issue; it matters deeply and I cannot somehow bracket it out.  I am accountable on this score and the board have every right to be concerned if there is any reason for concern.  To hear – if I got it right – that a senior pastor of a mega church had his administrative assistance living with him and his wife, in their home, and that sometimes his wife was away on speaking engagement trips . . . boggles the imagination.    And yet, more to the point, the board of that church did not feel freedom to challenge this and raise questions about the appropriateness of this situation.  And it was only a matter of time that it came back to bite them. 

Finally, two things.   We are only accountable for what is genuinely within our power to effect.   For a season I served as the Vice President and Dean of an institution where I was being held accountable for a whole range of things where I simply had to say:  yes, you hold me accountable but I do not have the authority or leverage points to actually do what needs to be done.  We can only be accountable for that which is within our control or influence.   All of us who are in leadership positions know full well that there are variables beyond our control.   And in our reporting, and accountability, we know this.  It is not a matter of excuses or “extenuating circumstances” as much as a recognition that we can only be held accountable for what we can and should be doing,.  And sometimes this means that we responded to something unforeseen in a way that was gracious, courageous and innovative.   But still, we do our work within the limits of what it means to steward the resources and time that we do have for the well-being of the organization. 

And finally, it all assumes that we believe in accountability and want to be held accountable.   If we personally do not believe in it and help make it happen, it will not happen.  And we are the lesser for it; as is the organization.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.