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Jim Selman

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The Economic Meltdown: What's Your Accountability In All This?

Posted: 03/03/09 04:25 PM ET

Russell Bishop's post about 'The Blame Game' is right on the money. He uses the term "responsibility" as meaning the ability to respond -- literally response - ability. I share his definition and am always asking people to see that responsibility has nothing to do with causality - who did it or who will do it, but is a relationship to the circumstances, a way of being -- a declaration that we always have a choice. Anything we're not responsible for, we are a victim of.

But there is another term we sometimes confuse with responsibility and it can be an enormous source of mischief in most situations. The term is accountability. Now this word is also often misunderstood as someone's job description or duty. I prefer to think of it as 'count-on-ability', the ability to be counted on for something. We can be responsible for all of it, but we still need to divide the work to be done and count on each other to deliver on what we promise.

The value of this distinction in an organization is obvious. It is the key to effective teamwork and increasingly is the key to dealing with complexity and unpredictability as we realize that we can't count on past recipes and tips to guide us through these uncertain times. I can usually guarantee that any area where we have a recurring problem that seems to defy solution there will be an absence of anyone accountable for that area.

Whether we are working in an organization or not, we can still ask ourselves what can we be counted on for? What do we have to offer? One of the benefits of being a bit older than most of the others in the tribe is that some of us can maintain a perspective on what is happening and sometimes remember that who we are is bigger than our circumstances and generate possibilities when others seem to be focused on getting by day to day. Maybe this is why we have 'elders' --- people in our community who have earned the right to be listened to and whose commitment to the whole can be counted on.

Most of us want to be valued. I have learned that the key to being valued is to add value --- to be of service. We have 70 million 'baby boomers' who have enjoyed the fruits of the last 50 years or so. Now it is time to take Russell's challenge and declare our responsibility for our circumstances and be 'called to account' for our results. Moreover, we have an extraordinary opportunity to lead in our communities and be accountable for the future --- to create a world that works for everyone.