We begin this post with the saying “your attitude is your altitude”. Now that’s a profound statement that’s critical to self development, especially if it is well understood and correctly interpreted.
“Only when you assume full accountability for your thoughts, feelings, actions, and results can you direct your own destiny; otherwise someone or something else will”
How much of your success would you say is up to you—your choices, your actions, your behaviours—versus outside conditions?
A lot of us make choices and decisions that affect us without realising how much we contribute to making those same decisions. The real value and benefit of accountability stems from the ability to influence events and outcomes before they happen. The customary view of accountability fails to recognize that people can gain more from a proactive posture than from a reactive one.
Accountability in Action: The ALARIS Story
As hard as he tried, Dave Schlotterbeck, CEO of ALARIS Medical Systems, just could not get the organization to perform. ALARIS had missed both top and bottom line performance numbers for three years running. Nothing Schlotterbeck did made any difference. The breakthrough at ALARIS was the result of focused effort at every level of the organization. Through a series of cross-functional feedback sessions held between operations, sales, customer care, quality and service, individuals confronted the group with hard facts that many did not want to hear. These sessions helped everyone to “see it” and build greater cooperation. People recognized the problem and how they could personally change it. Employees overcame the natural barriers of functional expertise and preferences and aligned themselves for the common good. Powerful forces went to work to improve performance in dramatic ways.
With the organization hitting and, in many cases, exceeding, its quarterly numbers for the first time since the merger, Wall Street rewarded this impressive turnaround with an equally impressive increase in stock price—a whopping 900%. In May 2003, Money Magazine listed ALARIS as the top performing stock for the prior twelve months on all three major stock exchanges. ALARIS had finally attained a culture of accountability in which everyone wanted to do and achieve more.
If your mind-set is that you’re at least 85% responsible for your success—and that just 15% depends on the way the wind blows—you’ll likely be successful. If you blame your problems and failures—big or small, personal or professional—on other people, circumstances beyond your control, or just plain bad luck, you may be doomed to fail.
The good news? Accountability is not just a mind-set—it’s also a skill-set that everyone can learn. It may not be as easy as one-two-three, but it is a three-step process:
Linda Galindo, a consultant specializing in individual and leadership accountability shares her top three steps for learning how to become accountable:
- Responsibility Responsibility is not something you do—it’s a way of thinking and being. When you’re truly responsible, you believe that success or failure is up to you, even if you work within a team or are blind-sided by unforeseen circumstances. You own your commitment to a result before the fact, before you even take action.
—Be responsible “either way.” It’s easy to claim responsibility when things go well, but it’s hard when they don’t. A truly responsible person, however, accepts responsibility either way. So next time you take on a project, be 100% responsible for the outcome. Not a little. Not somewhat. Not pretty much. Own it 100%—good or bad—with no wiggle room.
—Recognize your power. You already have the ability to be 100% responsible; everybody does. Yet most of us don’t realize—or at least don’t admit—that we alone have the power to manage our lives and careers. Sure, you can give that power away, but that is a conscious choice; it doesn’t happen without your permission.
—Deal with what is. Think about it: when was the last time you were able to change the past? It doesn’t matter what should have happened—it matters what is. That saves you the trouble of figuring out who’s to blame or worrying about how things “coulda woulda shoulda” been if only something had gone differently. It didn’t—and that makes your choice a cinch: “How do I want to react to the situation that is?”
- Self-empowerment There is only one kind of empowerment, and that is self-empowerment. Unlike granting authority, empowerment comes from within. By empowering yourself, you take the actions—and the risks—to achieve a result and get what you want. Rather than waiting for someone to declare you empowered or give you that one lucky break, you step outside your comfort zone, make things happen, and answer for the outcomes.
—Manage expectations. The most direct route to self-empowerment is to be clear about expectations—not only what you expect, but also what’s expected of you. To do that, you need to ask questions, make agreements, and clarify everything in writing. Otherwise, you risk suffering the source of all upset: missed expectations.
—Take back your time. “No” is an empowering word. So every time you utter, “I can’t say no,” ask yourself if you can’t—or if you’re unwilling to. Take back your time in other ways, too: get rid of your to-do list (track projects and deadlines on a calendar instead); resist over-scheduling (you can’t cram 12 hours of work into eight hours, so stop trying); and estimate times realistically (let’s face it, most tasks take longer than we think they will).
—Sing your own praises. It’s an all-too-common workplace mantra: “One day they’ll notice how much I do around here and give me the recognition I deserve.” NOT! Take stock of your personal talents and triumphs and let the higher-ups know who you are and how you contribute.
- Personal accountability
Unlike responsibility (the “before”) and self-empowerment (the “during”), personal accountability is the “after”. It’s a willingness to answer for the outcomes of your choices, actions, and behaviors. When you’re personally accountable, you stop assigning blame, “should-ing” on people, and making excuses. Instead, you take the fall when your choices cause problems.
—Tell the truth. Everybody messes up sometimes. Lying about it or trying to cover it up always makes it worse—no exceptions. (Just ask former President Bill Clinton, who paid a steep price—impeachment—for lying to a grand jury.) Save yourself some time: Don’t tell untruths. Nobody believes them anyway—not even you.
—Police yourself. Are you accountable for your actions even if nobody holds you accountable—or nobody catches you? You bet you are. So be your own “accountability cop” and police yourself. On the long and winding road of life, choose accountability at every turn.
—Look to yourself—first. When trouble arises, look first to yourself. Ask four specific questions: “What is the problem?” “What am I doing—or not doing—to contribute to the problem?” “What will I do differently to help solve the problem?” and “How will I be accountable for the result?”
Personal accountability is sorely lacking—and urgently needed—in business and across society as a whole. Wait no longer—do it now. Choose accountability and own your success at work and in life.
Sources: amanet.org and asme.org