Effective Accountability

Effective Accountability by Dr. Scott Yorkovich

Photo by I Woke Up Today. Available at Flickr.com.

Accountability is something we all need, but few of us really want. Among the few who welcome accountability, fewer yet know how to make it effective. Accountability helps keeps our selfish and hedonistic desires in check. It helps us to set boundaries and maintain good relationships with others. Without accountability, we can develop a false sense of importance and power.

Recently, I installed a monitoring device in my car. My insurance company pitched it as a way to reduce my premiums if the data shows I am a safe driver. Immediately after installing the device, I changed my approach to driving: slower stops and starts, staying closer to the speed limit, full stops at intersections, consistent use of turn signals. I was a pretty good driver before that point (I haven’t had a ticket or caused an accident in more than 10 years). Nevertheless, with the accountability of this device that monitors all my driving, I’ve improved in a number of ways.

So what makes accountability work? Why would a little chunk of plastic and circuitry installed in my car drive me (pardon the pun) to change my driving habits? Driving safely is important, but what about accountability in other areas of life such as finances and sexuality? Can you implement “devices” in other parts of my life that drive you to safer living? Yes, you can.

Ron Edmonson writes in his post “3 Keys to Effective Accountability” that accountability works when there is consistency, honesty, and intentionality. You have consistency in your accountability when there is regular feedback. If you have an “accountability partner,” you need to meet regularly, not sporadically or on an as-needed basis. You need to get face-to-face with someone who has your permission to ask tough questions and challenge your thinking and behavior.

Those face-to-face interactions need to be founded on a basis of honesty. I think a better word than honesty is transparency. Transparency and honesty are synonymous in many ways, but transparency suggests the ability for others to see through the facades and walls we all erect into the inner core of who we really are. Developing transparency requires trust and a special kind of relationship and this can’t be developed in every relationship. When you sense the ability to be transparent with someone else, and they to you, take note. That’s a special relationship that should be cultivated for mutual growth and development, for accountability.

The effort to build those relationships requires intentionality. I opened this post noting that few people truly welcome and develop accountability with others. Part of the reason is that it can be hard work, especially when starting an accountability relationship or system. I believe there are two keys to supporting ongoing intentionality: trust and results. Trust is important because being accountable involves vulnerability. When we share details of life (financial, relational, sexual, business, etc) with others, we are entrusting them with a part of our own being. If that vulnerability is held delicately and properly, trust grows. If that vulnerability is violated (by sharing details with others or inappropriate criticism), trust dies. Results are important because nothing builds confidence in a system (accountability or otherwise) like positive results.

I agree with Ron Edmonson’s guidance that consistency, honesty, and intentionality are important elements of an effective accountability plan. However, I want to add to this the principle of “boundaries.” It is very important to set limits on what you will and won’t do in relationship to your accountability issue. For example, in the area of relationships and sexuality, Billy Graham is well-known for his boundaries: he will not enter an elevator with a woman. He always travels with male business associates. One boundary I have is that I will not ride alone in a car with a woman (other than my wife!) and I never have a meeting with a woman behind a closed door. The boundaries principle can be adapted for other areas of life, too.

I’ll be honest, accountability can be scary because it forces me to face my true self. On the other hand, when I have embraced accountability and implemented consistency, honesty, and intentionality, the outcome has always been beneficial for myself and for those closest to me.

What have you found to be helpful for establishing effective accountability?

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