Accountability, authority, trust, and all those things

· September 4, 2014

How’s that for a little topic to clear out in a blog post? I promise this will be just a short thought… even though the title promise more of a book.

Well, after the last couple of weeks at my work I just wanted to write down a thought that I keep coming back to. I’m very proud to be part of the Salvation Army and right now we have a world wide leader (aka The General) that I think talks about a lot of good things. Here’s video with his latests message:

I like this message for a number of reasons, but the part that stands out for me is “We know we are not perfect. We want to become better. We start Now!” I like that kind of transparency and humbleness.

The keyword in the message is Accountability. I have a bit of a hard time with that word as I think it sends a pretty harsh tone, but it really comes back to where you start.

Accountability - the quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions (Merriam-Webster)

Trust and Authority

If I get the opportunity I’d often talk about Trust and Transparency. At least before Accountability.

I find it very hard to demand Accountability if you haven’t given Trust first. And in giving Trust you have to give Authority too. Give Trust without Authority is not Trust at all. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s not Trust. Because with Trust comes a part belief and “taking a chance” on a unknown outcome:

“I trust you to handle this situation.”

“You handle this project - I know and trust that it will be great if you take care of it.”

If you add “but all decisions comes from me” at the end of those statements I you have not only slowed down the process considerably but also lied. You haven’t given trust at all.

There’s a saying in Swedish to describe a bad job situation: “I got all the responsibility but no authority”. If you think about it that’s how you treat slaves of prisoners. “Dig this hole! If it’s not finished within an hour I’ll smack you on the head!”

But if you believe in the person to do good and Trust them you have now only speed up the decision process but also empowered them to step up to the challenge. Most people I’ve met step up to such challenges (or turn them down in the first place). The take on the Accountability and try to do their best with the Trust given to them.

Accountability and Transparency

What about Accountability then? Yes, I think it’s important of course and it might be the formal part of who’s actually doing what. “Who are accountable for this project?” This needs to be decided and know in order to have organisational clarity. But I also think that there’s another mechanism that we can implement, much easier, that will make Accountability happen automatic, more or less; Transparency.

Transparency means that we try to make information more visible and more known to more and more people in our organisation. In a fully transparent organisation everyone could know everything they wanted.

This doesn’t mean that no one is in charge, you will still have people leading and focusing on certain parts and not on others. We can still hold people accountable for the Trust we’ve given them. And we should that. But we need not to demand Accountability - it’s there by the virtue of the information being known to everyone that wants to.

Oh by the wa, Transparency also gives

  • faster decisions
  • less corruption
  • less gossip
  • more involvement
  • better loyalty

if you’re into those kind of things.


I don’t have a problem with Accountability, but I much rather start with Trust and Transparency. Then Accountability comes automatically.

I’ve written before about Commitment and I think those ideas brush on this topic.

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