In 2014, I wrote this article on accountability for a supervisor newsletter, and the topic is no less relevant and no less “hot” today than it was back then. Unlike so many other passing fads we’ve all seen over the years, the hard work of holding both ourselves and others accountable is a foundational leadership issue that even the best among us must be deliberate, purposeful and diligent in doing.
And the context is always shifting. I believe we would all agree that holding our pre-teen accountable for cleaning up his bedroom is very different from holding a direct report accountable for meeting performance expectations on the job.
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the word “accountability” first came into use in about 1770, but the concept has been around since the beginning of human history. Think about it: The first story of human interaction illustrates Man’s resistance to being held accountable when Adam tries to pin the blame of his failure (eating the forbidden fruit) on Eve, who isn’t any better because she blames the serpent for her failure (also eating the forbidden fruit).
Whether you believe the story to be true or not is not the issue. The point is that accountability, or its lack, has been part of the human condition all along the journey, so why should we be so surprised that it is one of the biggest problems organizations face today, not only in America, but around the world?
Getting right to the point, if we as supervisors want our employees to take responsibility for doing what they are supposed to be doing, then we must model it ourselves.
Yet how often do we make excuses for why we did or didn’t do something? How often do we blame poor performance on the team while skirting our responsibility as the team leader? We can be very creative in the process, couching our resistance to being held personally accountable in language that sounds a lot like “good” reasons for not getting the job done. We can argue about who is to blame all day long, but in the end we must take responsibility for our own attitudes, actions, words, and performance results.
There are times when things happen beyond our control which alter our course and may even prevent us from accomplishing our tasks, but in my experience, those are rare and far in-between. In the end, I have to admit that if I don’t get the results I need to or am tasked with, the buck really does stop with me.
It’s actually quite simple: we have to choose a different mind-set. Once we realize that we really are the only ones responsible for the decisions we make in life, whether at home or at work, our belief system begins to shift and we begin to take control of our decisions which, because we act on our beliefs, will render a different result from what we have been getting.
So here’s a new mantra you may wish to adopt: Be accountable. There are no excuses!
John Trombley retired from The Village Business Institute in 2019. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and a Master of Management degree from the University of Mary, Fargo where he serves as an adjunct faculty member. He is a motivational speaker with over 20 years of experience in providing training programs and consulting services in a wide variety of organization development scenarios. John is registered with the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota as a Qualified Neutral mediator under ADR Rule 114, and is also certified in Internal Investigations by the Council on Education in Management.
Previously, John served as a Command Pilot, Squadron Commander and senior staff officer in the USAF and Air National Guard, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with over 6,200 flying hours.