Recently, Treasury Minister Lord Bates, a junior minister in the UK’s House of Lords, walked into chambers late and stunned his colleagues and the world by offering his resignation for his tardiness. His actions generated reactions ranging from accusations of being too dramatic to be accountable. (Of course, Prime Minister May did not accept his resignation.)
On that same day in Tennessee, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry publicly admitted and apologized for having an extramarital affair.
Both apologies (below) demonstrate an important difference between “having an accountable” conversation and “being accountable.” In an ”accountable” conversation, the individual is willing to provide a consequence for their “unaccountable” action; whereas, when being accountable, the outcome is left to an external force to apply the consequence.
Lord Bates used a model of accountability rarely found in organizations today. The model is a statement, which must begin with “I” and includes the verbal insight into his thinking/belief, how it impacts himself and the organization, plus his willingness to declare the consequences for his “unaccountable” action.
In many organizations, being accountable is the most common approach, i.e., acknowledging what you did wrong, creating an agreement to do something different, and then undergoing the consequences, which are generally determined by an organization’s leader or/and an established performance-management system.
For example, an employee might express: “I am sorry for being late. That was disrespectful. It was not my intention and in the future, I will not do it again.” Then the employee would be reprimanded, either publicly or privately. This approach perpetuates a culture of blame and shame in an organization. By the way, this apology is a case of being accountable, as there are no self-driven consequences.
Nashville’s Mayor Barry was being accountable when she made the statement:
“Today I acknowledged publicly that I have engaged in an extramarital affair with the former head of my security detail. I accept full responsibility for the pain I have caused my family and his. I am so sorry to my husband Bruce, who has stood by me in my darkest moments and remains committed to our marriage, just as I am committed to repairing the damage I have done.”
The consequence of her actions is now left to the public, her spouse, or an external force.
Lord Bates used a model of accountability rarely found in organizations today. The model is a statement, which must begin with “I” and includes the verbal insight into his thinking/belief, how it impacts himself and the organization, plus his willingness to accept the consequences. Let’s dissect Lord Bates’ statement below to highlight having an accountable conversation.
“I wonder if you permit me to offer my sincere apologies to Baroness Lister for my discourtesy in not being in my place to answer her question on a very important matter,” Lord Bates said shortly after he arrived at his place. [Acknowledging what he had done beginning with “I” and then “my” to draw it back to him]
“During the five years of which it’s been my privilege to answer questions from the dispatch box on behalf of the government, I’ve always believed we should offer—rise—to the highest possible standards of courtesy and respect [his thinking or belief] in responding on behalf of the government to the legitimate questions of the legislature.” [Impact on the organization]
“I’m thoroughly ashamed at not being in my place [impact on himself] and therefore I shall be offering my resignation [consequence] to the Prime Minister with immediate effect. I do apologize.”
Which model of accountability do you want to lead with?