Accountability and empathy may seem at odds with one another, but they aren’t. Admittedly it can be tricky balancing how you utilize these in a motivational way. These two tools are like a double edge sword. Knowing when to use one edge versus the other can be the difference between cutting too harshly, thereby damaging your team dynamics, or cutting just right, and developing a high performing team.
Accountability in business can be defined as “the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and disclose the results in a transparent manner” (Business Dictionary). This type of accountability is one of the pillars of an organization’s Process of Management. Without this pillar, the organization is likely to crumble under the weight of poorly managed goals, objectives, programs, and projects. Creating goals to support the mission of your organization is important. However, if you fail to measure those goals and hold team members and project teams accountable for meeting them, your organization will likely struggle to perform successfully.
Accountability can take many forms, like monitoring and discussing key performance indicators and project update meetings. This review process should take place on a regular basis or as agreed upon. When a team is not performing as expected, difficult conversations with team members, project teams, and team leaders will need to take place at some point and, generally, sooner is better than later.
Simply put, accountability is about being a good steward of the roles and responsibilities entrusted to you. This includes personnel, processes, equipment, and clients. Seeing oneself as a steward can help to reframe accountability. Additionally, stewardship is a different way to look at your role. It suggests a caring, yet responsible, approach to accountability. This style can help you control the sharpness of the accountability edge of your sword.
The other side of this sword is Empathy. “Empathy (defined by entrepreneur Joey Pomerenke) is the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions; and the ability to share someone else’s feelings,” (Laserfiche, 2020). Having empathy for your team members means that you are taking into consideration a fully rounded view of both the person and the situation. Empathy helps with management and collaboration enabling you to understand the other person’s perspective.
Two good strategies to develop empathy involve listening to what your employees are saying and having regular one on one conversation with them. Listening can occur in groups and on a one to one basis. In the process of listening, we have the opportunity to celebrate successes with the team members, as well as express empathy for the challenges they may be facing. Challenges may include underperformance.
Regular one on one meetings provide the opportunity to focus on the team member’s goals, challenges, and about how things are generally going for them. It is an opportunity to build a relationship with your team member. In my experience, these may include a team member sharing information about their personal lives, especially if they trust you.
When listening or engaging in one on ones, we may simply listen, guide the team and/or individual team member in brainstorming possible solutions, ask if you can assist in some way, express empathy, and/or engage in coaching for performance improvement depending on the situation.
How do you use these concepts to manage your people and objectives in order to establish a high performing team? In my leadership positions, I embraced an axiom of “If I am to error, I want to error on the part of the employee.” If an employee makes a mistake that indicates inexperience or lack of knowledge or other circumstances were affecting their work, I tend to clarify expectations and let it go. If it is a character issue, then the behavior may occur again, which can lead to a different conversation. How one approaches the process is important. If one is viewed as “the punisher,” it creates a negative image. If one approaches holding an employee accountable from a perspective of truly wanting the person to be successful and has worked with the individual in a good-faith effort, then the team member’s perspective of the manager is often more positive.
Employing empathy and holding team members accountable are equally important in building a high performing team. One without the other can lead to more challenges. The beauty of the appropriate application of both is that your leadership reflects both a caring yet goal-oriented focus.
For the Faith Based:
The story of Jesus as told throughout the New Testament is the greatest example of how Accountability and Empathy are both important individually yet still interwoven. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus sets the stretch goal for all of us “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” There is so much embedded in this goal that ultimately makes it challenging to achieve given our human nature.
Does God expect us to be accountable to this Great Commandment? Of course, He does but He also has empathy for us because He knows us and our fallen nature. He had so much empathy for us that He sent His only Son to earth to justify us, and for Jesus to bear the accountability for those failures. In a perfect world, we as creations would be perfectly accountable to all God’s commands. However, in our fallen world, we need God’s grace and mercy to be made perfect through Jesus Christ.
Business Dictionary. (2020). Accountability. Retrieved from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/accountability.html
Laserfiche. (2020, March 5). Why Empathy is the Most Important Business Skill: Laserfiche Blog. Retrieved from https://www.laserfiche.com/ecmblog/why-empathy-is-the-most-important-business-skill/