Do you feel responsible for your successes and your failures? How much of your success is up to your choices, your actions, and your behaviors -- versus outside conditions? Do you blame your failures and problems on others, circumstances beyond your control or just plain bad luck?
There is an old saying, "To thine own self be true." If we want to be successful, we must hold the agreements that we make with ourselves ironclad. Find a highly successful person and you will see that they have the ability to take action because of internal motivation and a strong sense of personal accountability. External factors may come into play, yet it is the internal agreements that create the upward movement.
Accountability is an ability that we all can learn. It may not be as easy as one-two-three, but it is a three-step process:
1. Responsibility. Responsibility is a way of thinking and being. When you're truly responsible, you believe that success or failure is up to you, even if you work within a team or are blind-sided by unforeseen circumstances. You own your commitment to a result before you even take action.
* Be responsible for good and bad. It's easy to claim responsibility when things go well, but it's hard when they don't. A truly responsible person is responsible either way. So next time you take on something, be 100 percent responsible for the outcome. Own it 100 percent with no wiggle room.
* Deal with the present. We can't change the past. It doesn't matter what should have happened -- it matters what is. That saves you the trouble of figuring out who's to blame or worrying about how things "coulda woulda shoulda" been. Your choice now becomes easier: "How do I want to react to this situation?"
2. Self-empowerment. Unlike being granted authority, empowerment comes from within. By empowering yourself, you take the actions and the risks to achieve the result you want. Rather than waiting for someone to declare you empowered or give you that one lucky break, you step outside your comfort zone, make things happen and answer for the outcomes.
* Manage expectations. The most direct route to self-empowerment is to be clear about expectations -- not only what you expect, but also what's expected of you. To do that, you need to ask questions, make agreements and clarify everything in writing.
* Take back your time. "No" is an empowering word. Take back your time in other ways, too: resist over-scheduling (you can't cram 12 hours of work into eight hours, so stop trying); and estimate realistically (let's face it, almost everything takes longer than we think).
* Sing your own praises. It's an all-too-common workplace mantra: "One day they'll notice how much I do around here and give me the recognition I deserve." NOT! Take stock of your personal talents and triumphs and let the higher-ups know who you are and what you contribute.
3. Personal accountability. Unlike responsibility (the before) and self-empowerment (the during), personal accountability is the (after). It's a willingness to answer for the outcomes of your choices, actions and behaviors. When you're persozally accountable, you stop assigning blame on people and making excuses. Instead, you take the fall when your choices cause problems.
* Tell the truth. Everybody messes up sometimes. Lying about it or trying to cover it up always makes it worse. Save yourself some time: Don't tell untruths. Nobody believes them anyway, not even you.
* Police yourself. Are you accountable for your actions even if nobody holds you accountable or nobody catches you? You bet you are. So be your own "Accountability Cop" and police yourself. On the long and winding road of life, choose accountability at every turn.
* Look to yourself first. When trouble arises, look first to yourself. Ask four specific questions: "What is the problem?" "What am I doing or not doing to contribute to the problem?" What will I do differently to help solve the problem?" and "How will I be accountable for the result?"
Personal accountability is sorely lacking and urgently needed in our business culture and across society as a whole. Honor the commitment you make with yourself as much as you do sworn testimony in a courtroom. It will become the driving force behind all that you accomplish.
Brad Larsen is a life coach and corporate consultant from Northern Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.