Last week, I was in a meeting with a client, the CEO of a London company who said to me: “I wish my people would accept responsibility for their own actions and personal behaviour, instead of trying to shift the blame elsewhere.”
He said that the most important quality that he looks for in an employee seeking promotion is the acceptance of personal accountability. However, he also said that several of his managers, over the years, had not fully realised when they accepted a managerial position that it also included the consequences of taking responsibility when things went wrong.
The former US President, Harry S. Truman, kept a sign on his desk which read: ‘The buck stops here!’ It means that you accept the responsibility for whatever happens in your department under your watch.
Every organisation needs to maintain a culture of personal accountability. Unaccountable people are full of excuses as they explain that they were unaware of the situation, or that some other individual was responsible for the error. They are always quick to complain about something going wrong but are invariably slow in their response to do anything about it.
A lack of accountability is unhealthy in any organisation and many managers leave this type of company because they cannot work in an environment in which no one will take ownership of their own actions.
Accountability means that you accept the consequences of your decisions — not forgetting, both good and bad. It means more than just performing your specific role. It includes an ability to work for the common good and ultimately to further the goals of the organisation.
What does accountability look like? Firstly, you accept complete responsibility for your own actions and that you are aware of exerting control over your own behaviour through your own choices by accepting the consequences of the options that you choose — both good and bad. You don’t blame others or the environment.
Secondly, it means that when by your actions, or orders, or decisions, you cause a change in a policy or a procedure, then you accept the outcome.
Thirdly, admit it when you are wrong in a statement of fact. How prepared are you to admit that you have made a mistake or do you try to pass on the blame to someone else?
Of course, there are times when admission of responsibility may not be easy, as when you are working in a punitive culture, then it may be more difficult for you to admit to any weakness. Nevertheless, you need to accept responsibility even when the damage caused is only to yourself!
For example, if you continue to smoke tobacco when you are fully aware that it is damaging to your health, then you must take responsibility if you contract a chest infection, or lung cancer. Or if you drive your car when the brakes are faulty and you have failed to go to a garage to have them fixed, then when you are involved in an accident and break your leg, YOU are liable. Not someone else. Not the car. Not the garage. Not bad luck, but YOU yourself!
The advantages of being accountable:
* You will be seen as someone who can be trusted to make decisions even though there may be times when this is challenging.
* People will respect you for your actions and your deeds even though you may not be aware of it at the time. Over time, your reputation as a man, or woman, of integrity, will increase.
* You will become known for someone who makes things happen and your reputation as being a ‘high performer’ will almost certainly reach the ears of those above you, so that your reputation will bring you out of the crowd and into the ‘promotion zone’.
* Responsibility equals accountability which equals ownership. It doesn’t mean ‘passing the buck’. If all your employees had this sense of ownership in your organisation, how much more influential or successful do you think it would be?
* Responsibility and accountability go together.
* Don’t blame others when things go wrong.
* Accountability is essential for promotion.
Carole Spiers is a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international Stress Management consultancy and her new book, ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ is available in all good bookshops.