Personal accountability is a subject we cover in leadership development work since it’s central to building interpersonal trust and getting the job done, at home and work.
What is personal accountability?
In a nutshell, it’s the belief that says: I am responsible for my actions, choices, feelings and results.
Why does this matter?
Whether a senior leader or a project team member, we depend on others to get the job done. We cannot be in control of every single aspect, so we depend on each other for the success of tasks and project outcomes. We need to coordinate and inspire others to act. To be effective, we and others have to accept mutual accountability. Our track record of reliability proves that others can trust us. Part of being professional is doing what we say we will do. Is that how others experience us? This is the cornerstone of personal accountability.
Barriers to accepting accountability fall under three broad headings: having a victim mentality, blaming others and procrastinating.
1. Feeling victimised
As a victim, we suffer a sense of injustice. In our way of thinking others are unjust and wrong and have caused us to suffer. Consequently, we remove any responsibility from our own shoulders.
When we want something from someone, we can play on their guilt by making them believe they are at fault for our unhappiness or our problems, handing over responsibility for our feelings to others. As victims, we are not responsible for our reality, and thus not to blame for our lack of success or happiness.
The consequence: We take no responsibility for our own actions, and have short-term relief, but feel disempowered soon afterwards.
2. Blaming others
Most of us are capable of this. We may blame the government, our political and company leaders, the stock market or our team members, as the situation requires. We may blame something external out of peer pressure to join in conversations at work with others.
The consequence: Often, we may not even believe the full truth of what we’re saying, but the effect is to wear down our energy and that of the people around us.
The first step in understanding whether we are playing the victim or blame game is to listen to our own internal and external dialogue.
- How am I sabotaging my own personal power by putting energies into defending or blaming?
- Is this something I can control or influence?
- What is one proactive thing I could do, if so?
Asking a few questions to empower action could be a powerful first step.
3. Procrastinating: when we intentionally and frequently postpone something important that should be done now. What does it have to do with personal accountability? Because repeated procrastination undermines our own belief in our ability to get things done, the consequence is feeling bad about ourselves.
To have a good chance of conquering procrastination, we need to spot it straight away. Then, recognise what it’s about and take appropriate steps to overcome the block.
Step 1: Recognize what you’re doing
Here are some warning signs. Do you find yourself:
- Reading e-mails several times without starting work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them?
- Starting a high-priority task, and going off to make a cup of coffee?
- Leaving an item on your To Do list for a long time?
- Waiting until you feel in the ‘right mood’ to start it?
Step 2: Work out why
There are plenty of reasons for procrastination including finding a particular job unpleasant, being disorganized or feeling overwhelmed by the task.
When you’ve worked out your typical pattern, you can adopt strategies to get you moving again.
Step 3: Act
- Make up your own rewards that are meaningful to you.
- Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works!
- Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task.
We can choose to do something about levels of personal accountability for our own benefit and for others. Knowing that this affects confidence in each other, thus improving levels of trust and general wellbeing may be sufficient motivation to do so.
In our book “Leadership through Covid-19 and Beyond” we talk about being and doing, and the difference between average and superior leaders. The superior leader is typically described as one who trusts and develops trust, is authentic and walks the talk.