Enhancing Performance: The Three Levels of Accountability

Successful leaders know how to stimulate a culture of accountability by paying special attention to develop level 3 accountability.

By The Arbinger Institute | June 10, 2020

Every leader wants to have accountability in their organization. Understandably so. After all, work needs to get done and results need to be delivered!

However, depending on our mindset, there are 3 levels of accountability.

Successful leaders know how to enhance and maximise performance by nurturing and developing Level 3 Accountability.

Level 1: I Blame My Actions or Poor Performance on Others (or on Circumstances)

At Level 1, people tend to deflect any ownership for their poor performance, excuse and blame poor performance on circumstances, environment, resources, others people and more.

From a mindset perspective, level 1 accountability is a manifestation of having an inward, self-focused mindset.

When demonstrating this level of accountability, inevitably, tensions, conflict, low morale, poor relationships, lack of trust will be rampant.

Level 1 accountability essentially creates a very toxic culture.

Level 2: I Hold Myself Accountable ONLY for My Own Actions and Performance

At Level 2, people start to take ownership of their tasks and responsibility, but at this level, people only tend to be solely focused on delivering THEIR goals and expect to be measured and rewarded based on their delivery of the goals.

On the surface, this level of accountability seems to be a good thing. However, from a mindset perspective, people who exhibit Level 2 Accountability still lack understanding and awareness of others. There are still some levels of inward thinking and blindness toward the others.

The fact that people are not paying attention to the people they work with, and the impact they have on others as they deliver their results can also cause tensions, silo thinking and less-than-optimal interaction, collaboration and synergies.

When the pervasive accountability is at Level 2, people working in the organisation might feel victimised and more likely to experience burn-out.

Level 3: I Hold Myself Accountable for My Own Actions and Performance, AND for My Impact on Others' Actions and Performance

At Level 3, people are focused on and committed to delivering their goals. Besides, they start to believe how they do this is equally important.

People who demonstrate Level 3 Accountability tend to feel accountable not just for their goals but equally for the impact they have on others as they pursue their goals.

They recognize and accept that everything they do will have an impact on others, therefore they are alive to people, and pursue their goals in a way that doesn’t undermine others. They try their best to make it easier for others to achieve their goals.

While Level 1 and Level 2 Accountability are inherently self-focused (aka Inward Mindset), Level 3 Accountability is impact-focused (aka Outward Mindset).

When operating with Level 1 and Level 2 Accountability in an organization, the working culture is that people are being held accountable — significant levels of effort and energy are expended supervising and checking on others. Instead of creating, innovating and adding value, people are checking and/or needing to be checked to deliver their goals.

It is also important not to overlook the fact that both checking and being checked are inherently provoking for most people, thereby inviting blame and thus leading to impact on the quality of relationships, level of trust and engagement within organizations.

On the other hand, when operating with Level 3 Accountability, people are being self-accountable. This means people are free of blame and can optimize their efforts and thinking to create, innovate and value-add.

For those interested to know more, check out Arbinger’s books: Leadership and Self-DeceptionThe Outward Mindset or follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook more mindset deep dives.