by Ed Gurowitz, 2018 MKP USA Chairman

Accountability is one of the core values of the ManKind Project. On the NWTA one of the first major jolts comes when men are confronted with an expectation and exploration of accountability that they may never have encountered before. No shame, no blame, but no refuge in the circumstances either. The question “what did you choose to do instead” puts them right up against their agency in their own lives. In I-Groups we devote an entire round to accountability – with self, with others, with the group – and the context again is Warrior – unreasonably owning our responsibility in our lives.

Given the centrality of accountability in MKP, I thought it might be worth examining it at an institutional level. I’ve spent most of my professional career studying and applying the principles of accountability, and what follows is what I’ve learned and continue to learn about it.

The Key Principles of Accountability Based on The Power of Being Responsible. By Perry Pascarella, Vince Dibianca, and Linda Gioja, Industry Week, Dec 5, 1988

  1. Accountability is based on a promise: Being accountable means you agree to identify yourself as the sole agent for an outcome, regardless of the unpredictability of what may happen between the time you make the promise and the time you commit to fulfilling it.
  2. Accountability means activities aren’t enough: You’ve promised an outcome, and if you don’t deliver that outcome, it won’t matter how “hard you tried,” or “how much you wanted to.”
  3. Accountability is neither shared nor conditional Accountabilities are without condition. If it’s your promise, you are accountable, regardless of circumstances. Individuals must go beyond traditional “reasonableness” and use any ethical means to produce the result.
  4. Accountability is meaningless without positive consequences. Accountability is not about finding fault, assigning blame, or punishing. It is about achieving success and learning from mistakes.

An accountability-based culture such as MKP is one that works based on promises for what results the individual, team, department, or the whole organization will produce. A promise will have one of two outcomes: in the best case, the promised results will be achieved or exceeded. In the second case, what is achieved will be less than (or later than) what was promised, and lessons will be learned that will improve performance in the future.

In this context, it is critical that it be understood that promises are not transactional. In other words, a promise is not something I give you with no commitment / accountability on your part. A transactional promise is a setup for blame, and blame and shame are incompatible with accountability. Rather, a promise creates a relationship of commitment – a relationship in which both of us are party to the promise and the promisor agrees “identify himself as the sole agent for an outcome.” In such a relationship, it is the job of the promisee (the one accepting the promise) to do her due diligence to be sure that the promisor understands what is required to deliver on the promise and either has the wherewithal to deliver the results or has the support to get what she needs along the way. The promisee may also set milestones to check on progress, and otherwise take responsibility (though not accountability) for the results being delivered.

Thus, the key to an accountability-based culture is the setting of and committing to results to be produced. The process of accountability then becomes a matter of first acknowledging the outcomes and then assessing what worked well, what could be improved, and what could be changed.

A few things are critical to consider here:

  • The distinction between the world of blame (persecutor-rescuer-victim) and that of accountability is crucial, particularly as regards blaming the circumstances – valuable learning is highly unlikely if blame is in the equation as it will always be easier to blame oneself (victim/guilt), others (victim/persecutor), or the circumstances (victim/powerless) than to examine what was done that didn’t work well, what was not done, etc.
  • Both the promisor and the promisee need to be cognizant of the different levels of promises – in the world of blame, promises are made to avoid conflict or based on good intentions. In the latter case the promisor will blame the promisee (fear of saying no, imbalance of power) and in the former, circumstances will be seen to have intervened (stuff happens). In the world of accountability promises are made with a clear view of realities and resources (resources at hand and resources that are needed) or perhaps with a level of commitment that will succeed in spite of circumstances.
  • Before a promise is finalized, there must be clear understanding of the degree to which the promise is malleable and the process for making changes, as well as the circumstances (if any) under which the promise can be revoked and the consequences for revoking it.
  • If there is no clear promise (a specific deliverable at or by a specific time), and conversation about accountability will be a pretense. For example, if an I-Group doesn’t have a clear set of agreements about attendance, punctuality, communication, etc., then no one is accountable for being there, being there on time, notifying others they won’t be there, etc., and no accountability is possible.
  • No one can make another person accountable – accountability must be a voluntary act. Where an explicit promise is in question, this is pretty black and white; but in a civil society, some things are based on implicit promises, and chief among these is civility itself. When a member of society transgresses against these tacit norms it’s legitimate to call them out as, for example, the #metoo movement does.
  • In MKP we have a norm of support accountability wherein I say to a man that in In my judgment he is out of integrity or out of accountability. In a culture of accountability, the implicit promises are that I will hold myself to account, I will offer others support in holding themselves to account (support accountability), and I will be willing to be supported by others (called to account).
  • The final act of accountability is to close the loop – to acknowledge that the promise was kept or to report that it wasn’t (rather than waiting to be called on it or hoping no one will notice). A promise sets up an expectation, and the failure to fulfill on a promise will likely have an impact on the other person – at the very least disappointment and possibly the inability of the promisee to keep other promises he has made based on mine. So accountability includes being accountable for the impact of revoking, changing, or not keeping a promise. This is called “cleaning it up” and goes a long way toward restoring trust and confidence in the relationship.

In addition to Accountability, MKP’s values include Authenticity, Compassion, Generosity, Integrity, and Respect. Accountability could be said to be the foundation of all of these.