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Accountability: A Shared Goal or Purpose

 In The Tide

Below is an excerpt from Meaning Making: 8 Values That Drive America’s Newest Generations. Follow along on the blog for more excerpts, check out the additional resources on our Meaning Making page, and buy the book here.

The value of accountability deals with expectations, responsibilities, and communication. A shared goal or purpose is essential for practicing this value, whether within an organization or a relationship. For a group or organization to thrive, goals for leaders and members alike must align at some level.

What happens when one side of that equation—leadership or membership—moves away from an original goal or purpose for participation? Quite understandably, accountability may suffer, and with it the reason for participation. Without clarity or agreement about why to gather, the inclination to keep doing so understandably decreases.

Leaders who work with young people over an extended period often witness participation falling off as the young people grow up. These leaders might ask themselves what’s behind the decline: Are participants “aging out” of an organization or activity for unavoidable and even good reasons that accompany human development? Or has a discrepancy, even a clash, about the expectations and goals of the activity occurred among members and leaders? Participation in youth sports illustrates the challenge for leaders who work with young people. Studies in recent years have documented a steady drop-off in involvement in both school and nonschool programs from the late preteens through high school.

What seems to be contributing to this decline, studies conducted by the Aspen Institute, George Washington University (“The Fun Integration Theory”), and others suggest, is that the original shared goal or purpose of having fun, maintaining a reasonable balance of sports with other life activities, and ensuring ease of access regardless of individual ability (inclusion), had morphed. Increasingly, young people were being turned off by the pressure on winning, the demanding practice schedules that left little time for other interests, and the favoritism shown toward the most gifted athletes.

While you may not be involved with youth sports, clear lessons are here for leaders of all kinds of organizations. One of the more notorious examples of a decline of young people from organizational participation is in religion. Leaders who work with young people in this arena might ask themselves whether there is simply an overall difference between the goals and purpose of most organized religion and those of the young people they might wish to serve. If the answer is yes, how might this be addressed? Further, if the decline in participation follows along a continuum of age, as statistics seem to suggest it does, when and how and why does this trend manifest itself over time?

Any group or organization that seeks to serve young people ought to regularly investigate whether the goals and purposes of members and the organization align. Be clear to yourself, as well as the young people you care for, regarding your agendas. As for understanding the agendas of the young people themselves: ask them. This brings us to the third aspect that defines the value of accountability: good communication.

Act on the Data: Regularly review the goals and purposes of your group or organization, with leadership and membership as well. Be both humble and flexible, willing to change when change is called for, to adjust methods and procedures as circumstances merit, and even to dissolve if a goal has been accomplished or an original purpose no longer exists.

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Meaning Making: 8 Values That Drive America’s Newest Generations is an investigation into the values young people ages 13–25 practice & uphold.

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