The Power of Accountability
5 Steps to Achieve the Outcomes You Desire Through Greater Responsibility
There is great power in being accountable, which means being responsible or answerable, to yourself, your family, your employees, your employer, your faith, your cause, etc. In this article accountability and responsibility are interchangeable. Being accountable will help you be more fulfilled at work and in your personal life. Interested? Often we think the key to being fulfilled is dependent on external circumstances. External circumstance may include: Being treated fairly by management, or ownership; competent direct reports; efficient systems and processes; and positive culture, etc.
Although these external circumstances are desirable and can help with satisfaction and fulfillment, they are not the answer. Fulfillment comes when we begin to take responsibility for all outcomes in our work and life. Each of us has the power to choose how we will think and act regardless of external circumstance.
Steven Covey said, “Responsibility is the ability to choose your response.” Recognizing we create outcomes, by choosing our response to the events in our lives, is empowering. Take a moment to look in the mirror and catalogue what you have achieved in your life so far. The results you are experiencing in your career, your happiness and the quality of your relationships come from the thoughts and actions of the person looking back at you! Sounds too simple? The concept is simple but difficult in practice.
One of the biggest reasons it is hard to be personally accountable has to do with how our brains operate. The brain is designed to keep us safe. Sometimes, it can interpret discomfort the same way as physical danger. Many of our life experiences conspire against us. How we were rewarded, how we were punished and how we react when a situation is overwhelming creates strong neural pathways in our brains. These then create patterned responses. These habits of thought and behavior that can hold us back. We may say things like, “this is just the way I am.” Or we blame our ancestry: “I am Latin”, or “I am German”, or “I am Irish”. In moments of tension or when we feel overwhelmed, the mind rebels and wants to keep us in our comfort zone. It gives in to fear and doubt. It will delete, distort and simplify information to keep us safe. When this happens we limit our ability to respond effectively.
We live in a society where avoiding responsibility and placing blame is deeply rooted in our culture. Science has proven that attitudes can literally catch and spread like a virus. This can infect all of us. Blaming is an infectious disease. Blaming is often associated with strong emotional feelings. Author Daniel Goleman writes, “…emotions are contagious. We ‘catch’ strong emotions much as we do a rhinovirus – and so can come down with the emotional equivalent of a cold.” (Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence) American Psychiatrist, Daniel Stern, says our minds are continually interacting through a type of neural WiFi. (Daniel Stern, The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life, 2004, p. 76)
Parents blame teachers for low test scores, teachers blame parents for unruly children, employees blame their bosses when work gets too hard, and citizens blame the government for their economic woes.
So how do we overcome our own physiology and social influence to start being more accountable? Here are five suggestions:
Power in Purpose:
The first step of being 100% accountable is to get clear about what is important to you. What do you value?Values represent our guiding principles and influence our attitudes and how we act. I used to think identifying values was just a good idea. Then I learned what happens when behavior is truly aligned with what we say we want. There are several processes to help you determine your values. A good coach can help you identify these.Take responsibility for the things that are most important to you. How does this give you power? If you allow life to happen to you, it will fill up with trivial activities. I hear others and myself from time to time say, “I am too busy!” Make time for the things you value most. It will energize you. It will force you to be more efficient and effective. You are practicing taking back power over your life.If you believe family is important, schedule family events first. Twice a week my son has volleyball games at 5pm. I want to be there to support him. That means I schedule time to attend his games and adjust work hours earlier.
Having a purpose in your life gives you power. As you look back at your days and weeks you have made time for the most important things in your life. You will have a greater sense of satisfaction as you exercise more power and control over your life.
Be the Cause:
Forget blame. Be accountable even when things that go wrong which are not your fault. Recognize you make mistakes. When you are willing to shoulder more responsibility, more opportunity will come your way. Be the cause means you recognize your results are caused by your actions. It is the law of the harvest. You reap what you sow.
The Newtonian physics law of cause and effect is very applicable in our lives. What is cause and effect? I can’t say this enough…you are the cause. Believing this gives you power. Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”The truth is that no matter what challenges or stimulus we experience, we have time to choose our response. When we have created conditioned thought patterns, that space is milliseconds, yet there is a space.Viktor Frankl lost his entire family in the Nazi concentration camps. In the camps, everything was taken from him, EXCEPT the one thing he and you and I have that can never be taken, choice of what we think.
learn from your mistakes: I haven’t always made great decisions. At one point, I started a business without having done my due diligence. Four years later, we had depleted our savings and our home was in foreclosure. In the end, we were forced to give it back to the bank. This was devastating. It was not the bank or the government that caused me to lose our home. It was a consequence of my choices and actions. I changed direction with my business, we found a nice rental house, and life continued.I know first-hand how painful it is to lose a home. But blaming others for our predicaments only hurts us….we give away our power to change. If we believe our problems are generated externally, we may think we have no choice. If we think nothing we do will matter, we may choose to do nothing. This will cause us to remain stuck in our current situation. The more we think like this, the less power we have to change our circumstances.This thought from Viktor Frankl applies: “When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change our selves.” This is the heart of accountability.
Learn from those who have the ability to teach you something. Kids in school often would rather listen to their classmates and friends rather than to the teacher who could help them learn up. A great example of this principle is John Wooden, the most winning Basketball Coach in NCAA history. He won ten NCAA championships in 12 years at UCLA. A record, which has not been broken yet! He began winning in his late 50’s!!! He said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” This is a man who understands we are never finished growing!
We have all heard knowledge is power. I believe taking responsibility to increase our abilities to act and then taking action and being accountable for those actions is power. Think about the cost and impotence of being ignorant. Alvin Toffler said, “The Illiterate of the future are not those who can’t read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Can you afford to not be responsible for your constant learning and development? Find mentors, experts and coaches who can help you learn up.
Choose your thoughts wisely:
David O. McKay said, “Your thoughts are the architects of your destiny.” What you read, watch and listen to will create positive or negative thoughts leading to positive or negative patterned responses which will lead to outcomes.Everything in the world is made of Atoms. Atoms are made of energy. Energy is made out of thought. This has enormous implications for the power of your thoughts. Your thoughts determine your results in business and in your personal life. Napoleon Hill says, “thoughts are things.” Sounds nice, but do you believe it?Perhaps you have heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The science behind the self-fulfilling prophecy is intriguing. Dutch physicists Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg discovered the mere act of observing sub-atomic particles influenced the way they behaved (Heisenberg Principle). Meaning our thoughts influence matter. Thought is what the universe is made of. Matter and energy are two of the forms that thought takes.The Heisenberg principle has been applied in psychology. We know that just observing people in test group’s influences the outcome of the experiment. Your employees probably behave differently when you are watching. You may behave differently when your boss is watching.
The power of accountability is about recognizing that choosing to take responsibility for the results in our lives gives us power. It gives us power to take more responsibility, which gives us more opportunity. Choosing to be accountable causes us to avoid making excuses and blaming external circumstances. When we blame external circumstances for the results in our lives, we become victims. When we think the cause of our problems is external, we may not change and grow to get a different result. We don’t have power to change the economy, our boss, our partner, etc. We do, however, have power to change ourselves. When we understand this, we have the power to change our circumstances and results.