Monday, September 28, 2015

No Discounting the Value of Accountability

Years ago when I was a magazine editor, we did a cover story on “accountability.” Personal accountability was a hot topic. Everyone was talking about accountability groups or having accountability partners. We don’t hear the term as much these days, but it’s no less important.

Whether dancing, as this Asheville,
N.C. statue depicts, or struggling
through life, it's usually better
to partner with others.
I recall key principles we presented in that edition of the magazine. One was that the goal of an accountability partner is not to catch the other person doing something wrong, but rather helping that individual to “win” by attaining goals and objectives he or she had agreed upon to pursue. The person being held accountable sets the goals; the accountability partner serves only to provide reminders and encouragement to keep him or her on track.

For that reason, an accountability partner should be someone without a vested interest in the other individual’s performance. Being accountable to a person you report to in a workplace setting, for example, wouldn’t be good, since that individual has a keen investment in what you do – and how you do it. We should be accountable to someone whose apple cart won’t topple if we’re unsuccessful in meeting our goals.

The third important principle I learned is we can’t be held accountable if we're not truly willing to be held accountable. Sounds simple, but that’s foundational. For instance, a person might be struggling with a major issue in his life – perhaps a recurring sin – but if he doesn’t want to submit to being held accountable in that area, any efforts to help will be futile.

Back in 1969, Frank Sinatra’s hit tune “My Way” became an enduring classic, reflecting on our predisposition to “do it my way.” Sinatra, of course, didn’t invent this perspective, but he did give it an enchanting melody. The tune lilts through my mind as I write.

The problem is, as many of us have sadly discovered, “my way” isn’t always the best way. Living life on impulse and in isolation, guided by self-absorbed tunnel vision, can keep us from seeing potential potholes and pitfalls as we advance in our journey through life and work. Becoming accountable to another person – or a small group of people – isn’t a guarantee that we won’t fail, but can help us in avoiding a lot of mistakes while helping us to achieve a lot of positive goals.

A couple of Bible passages address this specifically. Proverbs 27:17 declares, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man (or woman) sharpens another.” Do you have someone “sharpening” you, helping you in your desire to accomplish some things you’d struggle to achieve on your own?

Then there’s Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, which talks about the power in numbers: “Two are better than one…a cord of three strands is hard to break.” Sounds like a small accountability group to me, a handful of men or women that agree to meet on a regular basis with their sole intent being to help one another to win, to work toward meaningful goals and overcome besetting struggles through mutual support, admonition, and a willingness to ask – and be asked – tough questions.

One of my favorite verses in the Scriptures is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which states temptation is common to us all, but God promises to provide a “way of escape” for us. But the preceding verse is a cautionary one: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). A strong, caring accountability partner or two could become that "way of escape," helping us to spot looming danger before we have to suffer the consequences.

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