Accountability Rising

Accountability Rising

Posted on December 5 by Art Horn in Non-fiction
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Over the sound of his straining engine, a pilot really did shout that I should throw my two boxes of personal items out the small side door of his two-seater aircraft. The idea was that we were going to crash because the plane was too heavy and there was nothing but forest beneath us. Even during takeoff he voiced his concern about the weight of my baggage, but once we were airborne there was no longer a question. Perhaps we shouldn’t have taken off in the first place.

The panic in his eyes and the sound of his screaming voice punctuated the urgency of the situation: it was my job to squeeze around my seat, crouch on the floor of the aircraft, open the little door, and somehow shuffle my stuff out, without falling out the hole myself. 

So I did it. I pushed my two boxes of belongings – things I really cherished, such as my diary, love letters, and the books that had shaped my beliefs – off the plane, pulled the door closed, and crawled back to my seat.

Thirty-five years later, as an executive coach who runs a leadership development company, I used that real-life snippet as a metaphor to preface my new book about how people can find greater personal responsibility by letting go of certain psychological baggage. The idea is that accountability problems inside organizations can only be resolved in an environment where people take more personal responsibility – not because it’s imposed, but because they want to, and can.

I believe the missing ingredient in recipes to satisfy corporate needs for greater accountability is getting people to own or embrace their responsibilities to themselves and the world they operate in. The usual solutions to accountability problems involve making sure people know what they need to do and creating information feedback loops to keep track of and inform people of things. The missing ingredient involves getting the individuals on the team to genuinely care, rather than generally comply.

In Throw Your Stuff Off The Plane: Achieving Accountability in Business and Life I attempt to explain that key ingredient. The book explores such questions such as: What makes someone behave responsibly? How can any of us be more responsible to ourselves? Where does willpower come from? How does genuine commitment work? How can a leader be inspiring while holding someone accountable? How can a leader engrain accountability into a workplace culture?

Leaders can’t force someone to care; there’s no way to effectively mandate caring. My experience is that they can only create an environment where personal responsibility flourishes. They can even “tickle it out.” They can pose questions that each of us can just as easily pose to ourselves; questions such as:

  • In what way would I actually like to be just a little bit more responsible to myself than I currently am?
  • What are my circumstances that seem to prevent me from behaving in the way I would like?
  • What recurring thoughts do I possess that block me from realizing my own dreams?

Just like my baggage in that plane so many years ago, our resistance to even self-accountability (as opposed to being accountable to others) can weigh us down. Self-understanding, self-management, and self-esteem can lift us up. The best leaders ask smart questions, role model ownership, and the inspire self respect. They tickle us with feathers and we rise to the occasion.

Art Horn

Posted by Dundurn Guest on February 21, 2017
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Art Horn

Art Horn, founder of HORN Training and Consulting, has worked for 30 years helping individuals locate personal responsibility and translate it into organizational accountability. He is an educator, consultant, and executive coach, as well as the author of four previous books on the topics of leadership and self-management. He lives in Toronto.