Accountability Starts with You! Excuse Me?

Accountability is a funny thing. Ask almost anyone if they hold themselves accountable and you will receive one of several replies: ‘Of course!’, ‘Sure!’, ‘I do, but no one else seems to!’.

And then reading a book recently about personal accountability and read this statement:

‘Accountability starts with you!’

I could not stop laughing. Perhaps is struck me funny because it was late in bed. My wife thought there was something very wrong with me. Well, perhaps there is, but my response was normal.

I pictured Abraham Lincoln pointing a finger at me while saying very loud and with feeling, ‘Accountability starts with you!’

Houston, we have a problem.

Abe, buddy, turn that finger around.

I understand what the meaning was supposed to be and I even understand it was well intentioned. But that is not what it says. Let’s be correct and accurate if we are talking about accountability. Accountability starts with me. Let’s say what we mean, people. Don’t let Abe or ourselves off the hook here. Let’s hold ourselves accountable for saying what we mean.

Nevertheless, poor Abe is guilty of something we all do at some point. We point fingers. We look to find some outside source to blame for our circumstances. We rage, we yell.

· ‘It was the xyz department.’
· ‘It was the xyz department that forgot to ________.’
· ‘It wasn’t my idea.’
· ‘We could sell more if we had xyz.’
· ‘My manager doesn’t spend enough time with me to train me right.’
· ‘My manager interferes too much.’
· ‘My employees just stand around every chance they get.’
· ‘It’s Not My Fault!, and my personal favorite,
· ‘It’s not my job.’

Sound familiar? I do this EVERY day. This is victim thinking. What will any of those statements do to solve the problem? Nothing.

How often do we look inside and ask ourselves, ‘What could I have done to make that situation better?’ The answer to myself is, ‘Not too often.’

Honestly, I find I have to work very hard to not blame. It is so much easier that trying to work out a solution.

I am no pillar of strength. I fall into the same cycle of victimization as everyone else. I blame, mostly my wife. She is a handy target. But I will choose anyone so that I don’t feel responsible and accountable. Accountable to myself. And I don’t do this on purpose. It is a habit, and not just a habit at home. I carry it to work with me every morning.

How do we stop this cycle of non-accountability, even with ourselves? We already know the answer, the difficulty is sticking to it.

When is the subject of accountability brought up most? When it is CYA time. Very few discussions about accountability are held when things are going well. Why is that? Wouldn’t that be the best time for it? No one is in trouble yet. Everyone is on the same moral high-ground in the beginning. Establish the ground rules for accountability from the start. However, in today’s busy, fast-paced business world, there is simply not time. That is what I am told.

To illustrate personal accountability in it’s best form, I have a short story to tell.

We have recently been working with an employee of a particular company. This person was unhappy with their current work environment and was extremely concerned and frustrated.

This person mistakenly signed up for our free organizational assessment thinking that they would get an answer about her culture in five minutes or so with some great advice on some action they might be able to take.

After this person took the survey and asked where the report was, I explained the survey is for an organization. We needed more people for an analysis.

Most people would simply have said, ‘Thanks for nothing’, but this person made the decision to hold themselves accountable and make something happen.

Email was very difficult in their organization, so they printed the survey, made copies, distributed them, collected them and them inputted ALL the data from each survey by hand. At last count they were up to 46 surveys with each survey having 51 multiple choice answers and four open-ended questions. 46 surveys, all by hand. She even typed in all of the comments in the open-ended questions. Do you realize the work involved with that?

This person is the epitome of personal accountability and the antithesis of apathy. At some point they made the decision to be ‘part of the solution’ and has put in huge amounts of work on their own time to help improve the work environment for themselves, their colleagues and their company. You know who you are and I hope you are as proud of yourself as we are.

It is the aware person who will recognize when personal accountability is lacking in his or her own life. The wise person who will listen to feedback openly. And the brave person who will say “Okay, I’ll do what it takes to change and improve my own life.”

Let’s challenge ourselves and try to be all three — aware, wise and brave. Accountability starts with me!

P.S. In a recent update from the employee above who remained anonymous to her company out of fear of retribution, the company (large, multi-billion dollar international service organization) has made a number of company-wide changes recently that were directly related to many of the comments and results from the organizational assessment. Who ever said that one person does not make a difference?


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