Accountability is not a defense

Back in what seems like a lifetime ago, I worked at a great place with some really great people who taught me an important lesson that everyone should be forced to learn. It’s a hard pill to swallow and takes constant work to maintain, but it is a lesson in real accountability and in recognizing your part in every issue you encounter. If I brought a problem or complaint to my boss he would always start by asking me questions. The most important was “what part did you play?”

Accountability is not a defense or an opportunity to blame. What does that mean? It means that accountability is personal responsibility. It is something that you hold yourself to; not something you should outsource to a manager or peer. It’s good to help others recognize opportunities to be more reliable and to expect accountable behavior from people you work with. But it’s the old adage “you can only control the things you can control.” It also means that if someone else fails you can’t use their failure as an excuse for your own.

If you want something to get done right or you have a personal interest in the outcome of something, you should keep an eye on it. Be informed, be a guide and be a facilitator. Make sure the people you count on are put in a position to succeed and follow everything through.

I know that there will be some out there who will argue that you can demand accountability, but in the end, you can’t. You can surround yourself with people who will hold themselves accountable, but you have no control over the behaviors of others. As a manager or a business owner you have the power to force people to follow rules or suffer the consequences, but it’s not the same.

So the next time you think somebody screwed you, think “what did I do that allowed this to happen?” And figure out how you can make sure to not repeat that mistake.

You are complicit in nearly everything that happens to you. There are very few actual victims. The sooner you learn that, and live it, the more you will grow.

UPDATE: Some people asked me who this is for or about. It’s not for anyone, but it is for everyone. Including, and especially, me.

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4 thoughts on “Accountability is not a defense

  1. Yes, Yes, Yes!

    Some people are so quick to blame. Which is a waste of time and energy, any failure should be looked at as an opportunity for growth, part of which is assessing how YOU can do something different to avoid the same outcome.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. James Archer says:

    This reminds me of one of the most important lessons I ever learned when I was doing project management, which is that “It’s always the project manager’s fault.”

    Missed deadline? My fault. Fix it now and prevent it in the future.

    Upset client? My fault. Fix it now and prevent it in the future.

    Low quality work? My fault. Fix it now and prevent it in the future.

    This lesson (passed down to me by a senior PM) suddenly made the entire job make perfect sense. My task wasn’t to “manage” the project — it was simply to act as if anything that could go wrong was my fault. It creates instant accountability, which then leads to improved performance.

  3. David Cosand says:

    Yes, this is also a lesson in love. I am human and therefore I can only do so much. I am flawed and will fail, guaranteed. But ultimately if I am on a team where we all selflessly and humbly look out for each other as we also take responsibility for our own actions, we will rise above the other teams that are plagued by incessant finger-pointing and negativity.

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