How Does Accountability Actually Function?

I am suggesting that you need to be able to answer three questions:

  • To whom am I accountable for the quality and the character of my work?
  • How does this accountability actually function? – the question in this posting; and then, next week:
  • For what am I accountable?

For now, how does this actually work?   Accountability is only meaningful if there are actual mechanisms by which accountability functions – so that, indeed, one can truly say that one has been held accountable.  If this is a matter of basic spiritual practice, then it is doubly important.  But for now, my focus here is on effectiveness:   if I am accountable, what are the practices or the means by which this happens? 

First, and most fundamentally, is the meeting.   I cannot hold those who report to me accountable unless I meet with them and discuss their work – not merely in general terms, but very specifically about what needs to be done, that is, the very thing they have been hired and/or appointed to do.   I will consider in the forthcoming posting the matter of “what” – for what we are accountable.  But what can be stressed here is that there is no accountability if we do not have conversations about what it is that is happening – hopefully in a timely manner.   In my case I need to be able to report to the board that each of those things for which I am responsible is happening, in a timely and effective manner 

Additionally, I report in a more focused way to a smaller sub-committee:  more focused in that part of that report is whether I am handling my board reporting effectively, including perhaps how I am managing a difficult member of the board or someone who functions in opposition to me – on the board or beyond the board. 

Second, I believe in the value of an ‘in camera’ session.   When I came to my current position, I instituted it immediately and it is a basic feature of each board meeting.  It is on the agenda; I excuse myself – sometimes for no more than 30 minutes – when board members are given freedom to speak not about the general well being of the institution but very specifically about the effectiveness of the president.  Typically there are no concerns; that is as it should be.  But the mechanism needs to be there for concerns to emerge that might not otherwise be spoken or come to light so that they can be considered and addressed.  I then meet subsequent to the ‘in camera’ session with the board chair to hear him speak to any concerns that have emerge that I need to take into account going forward. 

And yet it must be stressed:  the ‘in camera’ only works with an effective chair who keeps the board on task.  This is not a chance for a general complaint about the leader; this is not a time for gossip or to register personal frustrations about this or that.   It is essential that the ‘in camera’ be focused on what this leader is actually responsible for and if there are concerns that this is or is not happening.  And it needs to end with ways by which the board can encourage and support the leader who has been discussed in the ‘in camera’.  And it is the chair who keeps this exercise on task – so that it does not descend into a toxic gripe session which is of no value to anyone. 

Third, we have to submit some kind or report – written or oral – that reflects our sphere of responsibility and the tasks for which we are responsible.   The actual intentional communication – the outline and overview [again, either oral or written] —  that simply describes what is happening – without fanfare, without melodrama, without excuses or blame.  

So, the report.  The meeting.  And, if we are accountable to a larger group – not just an individual – then an ‘in camera’ meeting. 

Is there more?  If so, give me your thoughts at

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.