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By Mark vonAppen

"Our standard of performance on defense is to get 11 men to the football on every play," my father would say as he stood before his players to begin the season.  "We have a standard to uphold, and each one of you has stake in it.  If you believe in it, hold each other accountable, and work hard at it, we will all succeed. If you don't, then you need to find somewhere else to play, because you won't measure up to our standard."

The team held itself to a high standard of performance. The result was a tight-knit defensive unit, part of an even tighter-knit team, that won a number of world championships.  True communication existed, open door policies were truly open door policies, and everyone believed.  Players and coaches of character were welcome, characters were not.  Accountability went up as well as down, and it was known that leadership is a two-way street.

That was 30 years ago, but it still holds true on the football field today, and in all aspects of our lives.  Sports are a metaphor for life.  

Everyone has to do their job.  Everyone has to treat one another right. Everyone has to give all out effort.  Everyone has to have an all in attitude. Without these things, the group will stand still.

All in, or all out.  The choice is yours.

Success comes from total buy in, and you don't get that when accountability is synonymous with closed door meetings and punishment. 


Accountability is a word that is thrown around somewhat recklessly these days. We give a lot of lip service to it, but we don't truly define what it means. Accountability, like so many other buzz terms becomes an oft-ignored, eye-rolling, sound byte when we sling it around with phrases like, "Everyone goes home," or "We do that."  If the organization doesn't invest in people, and hold itself accountable by living up to the heuristics they so carelessly wield, then there is no way to become a first-class workplace.  All of the signage, the patches, the business cards, and speeches will be useless unless you live it. 

Holding people accountable isn't disciplinary, but it is nonetheless a discipline.

Catchy phrases and sound bytes don't move things forward.  Accountability exists when you do what you say.  A lot of people in the fire service are preaching the same message right now, and some of us have been sermonizing for a really long time about it.  Do your job.  It's as simple as that.  The difference comes from those who actually do it. Accountability, like excellence, begins with each person in the organization, and grows when we realize (and believe) that we are all interconnected, and are extensions of one another.  

Holding people accountable isn't disciplinary, but it is nonetheless a discipline. Holding each other accountable means elevating everyone's level of performance through a common belief system.  It comes from honest dialogue, having expectations, and communicating a vision.  Accountability means believing in each other.  That is the discipline, caring enough to talk to people honestly.

Most of all, accountability takes follow through.  Excellence and accountability go hand-in-hand. You don't just show up one day and decide to be excellent. You start with accountability.  You continue with a grinding dedication to the craft.  You finish by working tirelessly to create belief first in each other, and then in the system.  It takes hard work.  Without it, even the greatest ideas fade into oblivion.

Why is the bar set so high?  It has to be.  The stakes are too great.

Accountability is a discipline.  All in, or all out.  The choice is yours.  

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