Wrong, Not Bad

I have said a lot about accountability in recent months – how to hold yourself and others accountable, the benefits of accountability, etc – but something I haven’t really discussed is the impact of personality on accountability.

As mentioned in the past, accountability requires clear expectations, but people have different standards when it comes to a concept such as clarity. A ‘thinker’ will need measurable targets, specific instructions and a set workflow, but a more creative person will perform best when given wiggle room, space and time to understand a given task on a deeper level and the flexibility to approach it from different angles.

While these two examples stand in contrast, in reality, there could be some crossover between them – an enthusiastic thinker enjoys specific instructions and measurable targets, but could also take pleasure in freedom and creativity, meaning strict workflows can negatively affect performance.

Sometimes just laying out a brief is not enough; no matter how clearly expectations are set, no matter how well people understand their roles, there is a little bit of customisation required.

A note that my examples will come predominantly from the Enneagram, given that it is what I’ve studied, and know that there is wiggle room in each profile type, none of these is set in stone

Let’s start with feedback

Everyone takes feedback differently – an Eight on the Enneagram will prefer blunt and straightforward feedback but will likely only take it from someone they believe to be capable of giving that feedback (someone they see as an equal).

Ones on the Enneagram prefer respectful and supportive feedback, they like to know what is expected of them and how they can get the job done properly. By comparison, we have Twos who prefer collaborative accountability, where accountability is largely shared amongst a team – this is not an attempt to dodge responsibility, it is because their world consists of connections to others, making it difficult for them to disconnect and work entirely on their own.

The One, the Three, and the Five prefer to hold themselves accountable – these are the people who will likely be harsher on themselves for making mistakes than their own leadership would be. They work best in environments where there is mutual trust and autonomy, they want to manage themselves – many of those who love working from home will fall into one of these three profile types.

Acknowledgement and appreciation

Much can be said about how we give feedback to others, but I don’t think much discussion has been given to the ‘when’ and ‘where’. Some people prefer receiving acknowledgement and appreciation in front of others, some won’t. The Eight will appreciate being rewarded publicly, so will the Two, but the Two will only really appreciate the recognition when it is given with the context of the impact they have had on their team.

On the opposite end of this spectrum is the Five, while rewards and appreciation are important, the Five will want it in private, perhaps over a cup of coffee or a quick congratulatory handshake in the hallway – not everyone is comfortable being singled out, even if for positive reasons. Nines are similar in that regard, though they prefer working as a member of a team, they also prefer quiet recognition over public rewards.

Giving guidance

Where Ones and Fives can largely be left to their own devices (again, they are independent workers), Threes, Sixes and Nines enjoy regular check-ins and progress updates, they don’t want to be micromanaged, but they do want to make sure they are progressing in the right direction. In the case of Threes, they also want to ensure that their team members are progressing.

Feedback and dealing with confrontation

While I don’t like associating feedback with confrontation, it is often perceived that way and can come across that way. Nines don’t take confrontation well, while Sevens don’t mind confrontation too much but may feel hurt. The Eight, by contrast, won’t be so bothered by confrontation, provided it comes with direct feedback, as they prefer to just get on with things; in that same breath, while they are comfortable with being confronted, they also don’t mind being the one doing the confronting – dishing out feedback of their own when they feel necessary.

Emotional support and understanding:

For some, especially Fours, feedback and guidance need to be founded in the understanding that their emotions are connected to everything. It is this connectedness that makes them such creative people; if we speak to them bluntly or harshly, or if we otherwise remove the emotions from the equation, their creativity will take a hit.

Nines are really good at ‘slotting in’ amongst their team members, but to do this they need to see the bigger picture, meaning that during briefings they will focus almost as much on everyone else’s tasks as they will on their own.

This is a lot, and I could go on about it forever, but now I’d like to loop back to how personality affects accountability. Fortunately, catering to the many needs of your team members is simpler and easier than it sounds – all you need to do is ask them what they need, and then refine your communication and your way of working to get the best out of them. Combine your understanding of their needs with the organisational safety we discussed a few weeks ago and they will be open to coming back to you when they encounter a problem, allowing them to be accountable in their own way.