Personal Accountability: What is it?

How do you fill the gap when there is a variance between your expectations and your experience with those you are leading? Do you trust? Distrust?

As leaders, we should fill that gap with trust, but one key aspect of building and sustaining trust is personal accountability. When I have led teams, expanded teams, taken over teams or participated in a team, I always work to build a performance-oriented culture marked by personal accountability. With that in mind, I invested time to define for my teams what personal accountability meant and what the behaviors look like if we embody this value.

Here is a snapshot of what I presented back to my teams.

Personal accountability looks like this:

We do what we say we are going to do for our customers and each other.

We are thoughtful when we make commitments and seek a good understanding of what is required.

When we make a commitment, we do whatever we can to fulfill that commitment.

If we are not able to meet a commitment, we communicate that as soon as possible.

We don’t play the blame game or think or ourselves as a victim. Instead, we look for opportunities to change our situations and take action to be a catalyst for positive change.

Here are some behaviors or thought patterns we exhibit that demonstrate that we are embodying personal accountability:

We accept complete responsibility for our behavior — No more excuses. No more finger pointing. Accepting responsibility is being fully aware of exerting control of your behavior through your choices. Additionally, you accept the consequences of the choices you make while taking the good with the bad. This is about ownership.

We meet or exceed agreed upon expectations — Imagine if all of us lived out this principle! Here are a few ideas associated with this:

· Know the expected results you are being asked to achieve

· Meet/exceed these expectations proactively

· Volunteer to assist whenever possible

· Encourage feedback regarding your performance

· Use the feedback offered to improve your performance

We admit mistakes — A key aspect of personal accountability is admitting when things do not go as planned or expected. This relates directly with the choice to trust first, in that we choose to trust one another and know that when we make mistakes we admit them and have a plan to remediate.

We are willing to take risks in attempt to make things better within our area of influence or the broader organization

We admit limitations of knowledge (we know what we don’t know) — It’s OK to not know everything. It takes a lot of courage to admit you don’t know something when the easy thing to do is “fake it”. Personal accountability exhibits an “I don’t know but I’ll find out for you” behavior.

To add a little contrast to what we are talking about, here are a few behaviors we exhibit that demonstrate we are NOT embodying personal accountability:

We play the “Blame Game” — Key phrase or thinking is “who dropped the ball?” Nobody takes ownership for anything and there is a lot of finger pointing. We look to answer the question, “what happened?” instead of asking a better question, “what is the best outcome from here if we pull together vs. apart?”.

We deflect accountability to someone else — When things go wrong, it is always another team’s fault. We spend most of our time looking out the window vs. looking in the mirror.

Victim Thinking — Key phrase or thinking here is “why do we have to go through all this change?” or “why doesn’t anyone tell us what’s going on?” or “why can’t they communicate better?” This is a sign of focusing on being a victim vs. focusing on what we can do to improve the situation around us.

Procrastination — This one sounds like “what work can I put off and hope someone else picks up for me?” This is characterized by team members who allow opportunities to slip by and delay action until the last minute or until it is too late.

Creativity problems — in an environment where there is high personal accountability team members come up with creative solutions to problems using resources available. Where there is a lack of personal accountability there is a lack of creativity.

Which behavior pattern or value will you choose? For us to achieve the goals we have for our teams we must have a group of people who take personal accountability for their work and help increase the personal accountability of their teammates around them.

Remember, as leaders we always get two results. We always get what we create and what we allow. When it comes to building a culture of personal accountability, let’s make sure we are allowing the right behaviors and creating new standards where needed.

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