Accountability is so much more than just admitting when you’ve made a mistake. Unfortunately, this is the narrow definition many people use and they miss the bigger picture of what being accountable looks like.
True accountability is fully owning everything that happens in your life. It means you understand that you are responsible for your attitude, actions, reactions, teamwork, communication, and relationships. It also means you hold others accountable for the commitments and effort they give forth.
To me, there is almost nothing more important than accountability. It leads to honesty, commitment, compassion, integrity, and it builds deeper, more fulfilling relationships. To help illustrate true accountability, I wanted to share some examples in an effort to help others gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for how important this character trait is.
You don’t understand a decision your boss made. It’s affecting your job and you are losing sleep over it. What do you do?
How to be accountable in this situation: Seek to understand without blaming or making assumptions. Ask your boss about the decision; what was the background that triggered it and how was it made? Is there a bigger picture that you aren’t seeing? Then share how the decision is affecting you and offer solutions on how your stress might be eased.
How to NOT be accountable in this situation: Talk behind your boss’s back but give him lip service to his face. You tell yourself that you can’t change anything so you’ll just have to shut up and deal with it. Assume that it’s his job to figure out how much the outcome is affecting the team; it was his decision after all; now he has to live with the consequences.
A teammate shares with you that you come across as aggressive in meetings and people are afraid to speak up in fear of being snapped at. What do you do?
How to be accountable in this situation: Say thank you for the feedback and ask more questions about how you are making people feel. Apologize to your teammates. Ask them for help in holding you accountable when you have an aggressive tone in meetings. Look within to understand why you are being aggressive; perhaps these meetings are ineffective and long and it’s causing frustration? Share your concerns, along with solutions, with your boss so she can help you come up with a plan to resolve issues that are negatively affecting your job. Ask for help if you don’t have the tools or skills you need to communicate effectively.
How to NOT be accountable in this situation: Get defensive, make excuses, blame someone or something else, or otherwise blow off the feedback. Let your feelings get hurt so you shut down, refusing to talk or engage in meetings.
You’ve gone as far as you can go on a project and you can’t take the next step until someone from another department does his part, which doesn’t seem to be happening. What do you do?
How to be accountable in this situation: Not wanting to make assumptions, you walk to his desk (or pick up the phone if you aren’t in the same location; you know that sending an email could be misinterpreted) and ask him how’s he’s doing. Perhaps his boss gave him a different set of priorities or he didn’t know you were waiting on him? Ask him if there is anything you can do to help and when he expects to be done. You let him know that you appreciate his workload and it’s not your intention to pile on; you understand that you are both on the same team and succeed or fail together. At the end of the talk, you mutually agree on a time frame. By doing this you hold both yourself and your teammate accountable.
How to NOT be accountable in this situation: Take the mindset of “at least it’s not on my desk anymore so my boss can’t blame me.” You complain to other co-workers about him behind his back but don’t try to understand what’s holding him up nor do you give him feedback; it’s not your problem nor your responsibility to make sure your teammates are doing their jobs.
There is a lot of miscommunication on your team. You are frustrated because you are working on the same thing as two other people, unbeknownst to all of you. What do you do?
How to be accountable in this situation: You ask these two people to sit down with you and assess what happened. How did you all three end up working on the same thing? Was a breakdown in communication or process? What needs to be done to fix this? Ask for input from others. Develop a process to ensure this won’t happen again. Present the plan to your manager as a solution to your problem. Commit to holding each other accountable to following the new process.
How to NOT be accountable in this situation: Grumble in frustration and tell the other two that you will just handle it yourself, but feel resentful while doing it. You decide not speak up about the problem though…it’s your manager’s job to fix the poor communication issues plaguing your department.
You are having a rough morning and it seems like everything that could go wrong does. You feel yourself slipping into annoyance and want to get snippy with your co-workers. What do you do?
How to be accountable in this situation: You go for a walk around the building to get some fresh air. You know that your mood sets the tone for everyone around you and you want to bring cheer, not gloom. While you walk, you think of all the things you are grateful for, understanding that a shift in mindset can help you shake the moodiness. You take a few deep breaths and walk back to your desk to write down 3 things that would help you get your day back on track. Then you stop by a co-worker’s desk and say, “I’m having a bit of a bad day. I am working hard to keep myself from spiraling into a bad mood but may need a pick me up. If I seem grumpy, can you please tell me a joke to help me smile?”
How to NOT be accountable in this situation: You let yourself fall into a bad mood and justify it by saying, “Everyone is allowed to have a bad day. My co-workers are just going to have to deal with it. The reason I am in a bad mood anyway is that people are making mistakes and not communicating well. It’s causing everything to go wrong.” You avoid talking to your teammates, vowing to keep your head down and focus on getting your job done. When someone comes and asks you a question, you give a short response and tell him that you are too busy to help.
In each of these examples, you had a choice: be accountable or not.
You can see when you choose to be accountable, you empower yourself to be part of a solution, building trust, resolving issues, and gaining a deeper understanding of yourself and those you work with. Being accountable feels better in the long run, even if it’s a painful process because it builds self-esteem. There is nothing more powerful than solving your own problems and fixing your mistakes. Owning your attitude and choosing to be positive helps you see challenges as opportunities.
Or…you can let yourself be a victim of circumstance, giving away your power to change your situation, help your teammates (including your boss), and solve your own problems. Being a victim gives you an excuse to have a bad attitude which leads to poor relationships and spills over into those outside of work.
You get to choose every day: be empowered or be the victim. I hope you are inspired to choose empowerment.
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