Accountability Begins with ‘I’ Statements

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When you think of the word accountability, what typically comes to mind is ‘responsibility’ and some sort of ensuing punitive action. We think of the authority figure who asks, “Who is responsible for this (fill in the blank)?” And if we’re the one in charge, we fear the consequence.

An alternative to that perspective is the way I learned about accountability. When I had my first experience working at a management consulting firm, I learned the concept of 100% Responsibility. They used it in a wide range of management and leadership development courses.

100% Responsibility is “A special kind of responsibility which means accepting ownership for making the desired results a reality. This empowering attitude enables individuals to take productive initiative and avoid habits that become barriers like making excuses, blaming and justifying.” 

The Atlanta Consulting Group

Since learning this concept decades ago, I have seen similar definitions by other coaches, trainers, and speakers too numerous to give credit to here. Suffice it to say, this concept is a key factor in both leadership and organizational effectiveness, so now I spend my time challenging leaders I coach to redefine their ideas of accountability as a form of ownership. Ownership takes courage. It also takes commitment. It is about accepting personal responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, words, attitudes and actions without pointing to outside people or circumstances to blame or justify the outcome of the choices we make.

Another way to think of this mindset, is that we all have a responsibility to show up for ourselves every day. Every day we are blessed to wake up again, we get to choose our reaction(s) to all the things that we experience. All that we do, and don’t do, has an outcome – good, bad or neutral. We might define them as successes or failures. And with an accountability mindset of 100% Responsibility, we have the understanding that we had a choice in whatever that outcome was.

Here’s a work example: A four-person team is given a new project to develop X by deadline Y. In a company with a culture lacking accountability mindset, each person would assume one-fourth of the responsibility for their ‘share’ of the project or 25%. If someone did not do his ‘share’ — the other team members would blame him and justify that they ‘did their part’ and the team’s failure was because of him and therefore not their problem. They may even throw him under the bus to coworkers outside the team and maybe even to management.

In an organization with an accountability culture, each person would assume 100% Responsibility mindset for developing X by Y. [This is where the “I” statements come in.] If someone is not doing his ‘share’, other team members ask themselves, “What can I do to help us reach our goal?” Accountable team members respectfully call him out on his lagging activity and either he steps up his pace or the rest of the team steps in to assist in some way.  Remember, everyone is 100% Responsible for the desired outcome – the development of X by Y.  On a team with like-minded members holding themselves accountable, their productivity and chance of a successful outcome is exponential. In this case of a four-person team – it’s 400%. In short, by taking 100% Responsibility, you completely give up the option of having excuses for not meeting the goal. Instead, you replace them with actively choosing to do whatever it takes to meet the outcome or goal.

Believe me, I get that being accountable and choosing this mindset is HARD in practice. It’s hard to take full ownership of an outcome – especially if the results were less than optimal. Making excuses is EASY and second nature to many people because they don’t want to be embarrassed or show failure. If you make an excuse, you can transfer the failure to someone else and avoid being hurt or shamed.

Accepting 100% Responsibility does not mean that you do everything or do other people’s work. It means your approach is more proactive and less reactive. You ask, “What can I do to enable our completion of X by Y?” By doing so, you act as if you alone are responsible for the outcome or goal, even for the things that seem beyond your control. You no longer wait for anyone else to assume responsibility for creating the results that you want.

On my first white water rafting trip, I was there with a work team for some ‘teambuilding.’ Early in our adventure, our guide said we would regularly come across forks in the river and in each case, we had a choice to make: we could take the EASY way which was without obstacles and coast through OR we could choose the HARD way and challenge ourselves mentally and physically to handle the formidable Class IV rapids. We were all typical office workers who sat at desks all day. On that day, we agreed there was only one choice.

At every fork in that river, our guide asked, “Which way?” and we screamed in unison “The HARD way!” as we high-fived with our paddles in the air above us. As a team, we took accountability for the outcome. We wanted our experience to be GREAT and therefore, each of us chose to do our 100%. It was exhilarating. To say that it was one of our more thrilling work days, is an understatement. After that trip, when our team was challenged by a perceived obstacle at work, one of us would ask out loud, “Are we taking the EASY way? Or the HARD way?” And every time – we knew there was only one choice. 🙂 People Matter in Business.

Cindy Goyette, SPHR – Maximizing Human Capital, Inc. 2017

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