How much of your success would you say is up to you sir—your choices, your actions, your behaviors—versus outside conditions?
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:
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?”
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.
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, in our communities, and across society as a whole. Don't wait for someone to give you permission—do it now. Choose accountability and own your success at work, love, and in life. As a king should.