Monday, February 1, 2010

6 Questions to Increase your Accountability Muscle

Some days I feel like I can hardly keep up with all the public figures behaving badly. Behaving badly and then lying about it. Then, apologizing for behaving so badly. And lying.

That's why I was interested in discussing the issue of personal responsibility. Are we capable, I wondered, of taking personal responsibility? What impact does that lack of accountability have on the workplace? It's a question I explored in my latest column for Gannett:

When ex-baseball player Mark McGwire recently admitted taking performance-enhancing steroids during his career, critics charged that his a truthfulness fell short when he contended he still could have hit his record-breaking number of home runs without the drugs.

Failing to accept complete personal responsibility – without excuses or addendums – is a practice that’s infected every nook and cranny of our society today, including the workplace, says Linda Galindo, an executive coach and accountability expert.

“Mark McGwire is an example of someone who tries to explain away why he did what he did,” Galindo says. “When you do something like that, your authenticity starts to be diminished. It’s just an example of the level of ridiculousness we’ve reached.”

Real accountability, Galindo says, means that you take ownership of your results – good or bad – and don’t point the finger at anyone else. It means that if you make a mistake, “you say what you did and what you learned from it and what you’ll do differently in the future,” she says.

If you’re on the slippery slope of evasiveness, she says, you end up spending more energy dodging honesty that you do taking responsibility and learning and growing from your experiences, she says.

Still, Galindo acknowledges that in this bad job market workers may fear being fired if they do admit a mistake, but she says taking on personal accountability can actually help a career. She says that shifting blame, telling lies and dodging questions doesn’t keep the truth from emerging later.

Further, a boss may be even more irritated by the evasion and the time lost trying to track down the real story – and fire you for not owning up to it in the first place.

If you make a mistake, Galindo recommends telling the boss that you want to take ownership of the situation, but you’d like some time to assess where you went wrong, and some solutions to the problem, she advises. Always make it clear to the boss, she says, “that you want to be there, and you want your job and you want to do better,” she says.

Galindo, author of “The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success,” (Jossey-Bass, $22.95), says that ways to increase your personal responsibility and accountability include asking these questions:

1. Are you responsible whether the results are good or bad? You have to decide to own the results completely, no matter the outcome. No excuses.

2. Do you recognize your own power? You alone have responsibility for managing your career. You can’t give that away unless you want to.

3. What are your expectations? What do you expect of others? Of yourself? Clarify with yourself and others what you expect. Ask questions to make sure you understand situations and avoid misunderstandings.

4. Are you dealing with the present? Let go of past annoyances or angers or regrets. You can’t change the past, so it doesn’t matter what “should” have happened. Worrying about who to blame or longing for what “could have been” is a waste of time and energy. Instead, focus on the present and how you want to react.

5. Do you always tell the truth? No one is perfect, but trying to cover up a mistake only makes it worse. Besides, when you lie you don’t really fool anyone – including yourself.

6. Are you policing yourself? “Personal accountability is a commitment. It’s ‘I’ messages. It’s saying that you want to own the problem and move forward,” Galindo says.

Galindo says that employees feeling more pressure these days to perform can use personal accountability to actually make their lives less stressful and gain clarity about their career.

“You end up paying over and over again for not being accountable. You have to decide that you’re going to step up and answer for your results,” she says. “The question is: Are you ready to step up and take responsibility for your own success?”

Do you see a lack of personal responsibility in your workplace? What impact does it have?



Robert Hruzek said...

The challenge is getting past the short-term "reward" (meaning temporarily avoiding blame) of being "less than truthful" (also known as wrong) and looking at the situation from a more strategic point of view. The fact is, the one who personally commits to open honesty, no matter what the cost, will always come out ahead. It may not be immediate, and it may not come out in the way you think - or even hope. But it'll come.

Anita said...

How nice to see my favorite cowboy post a comment! Your words are very wise...thank you for sharing them.

Joe Lavelle said...

Great post Anita! It is a shame that we have to be reminded almost every week how behaving badly backfires. Last week's example was John Edwards. It leaves me yearning for a societal answer to increase ethics awareness. My sister was telling me this weekend that her favorite (and best) class in law school was ethics. Maybe we should start requiring ethics classes as early as elementary school?

Anita said...

It certainly brings up an interesting point that if ethics are not being clearly taught at home or in school, is it time the workplace became a forum?
Thanks for your comments!

Bruce Lynn said...

You appear to be focusing on people who want to be more accountable. In these cases, I think you are missing the key breakdown in accountability for those who do strive to be accountable. That area is 'indirect' impacts versus 'direct'. It is relatively easy to take accountability for your actions and outcomes on face value. The tricky bit is the second-order and third-order impacts that people struggle with. The forest for the trees. The immediate results seem positive, but has it incurred some indirect negative outcome?

As far a those who deliberately shun accountability, I completely disagree with Robert (who asserts that 'one who commits to open honesty...will always come out ahead') and Joe (who asserts that 'behavinng badly backfires). Please come and play poker with me and a few of my friends, guys, and we'll so who walks away with the chips (as we collude and cheat).

If the current economic situation teaches us anything, it is that cleverly crafted deceipt and complex trickery wins big time. Maybe the perpetrators pay some 'moral' or 'soul' price, but that is a different realm. In terms of real world and real things, everyone from Enron to investment banker execs are all sitting pretty in their yachts right now while the unemployed figure out how to feed their families, the retired figure out how to survive with half a pension and the uninsured figure out how to treat grandma.

Cheating always beats honesty unless policing is vigorously and effectively enforced (which is very hard to do with complex areas). It is easier to 'take' a chair or a loaf of bread than to 'create' a chair or a loaf of bread. You just need to figure out how to 'take' it without it coming across as 'theft'. Hence, why 'taking' is always more profitably and why the world is set up to inspire people to think of more and more creative ways to take other people's things. Teaching ethics is not the issue; living and enforcing ethics is.

Anita said...

I do think enough types from Wall Street and other executives have done the "perp walk" to show that dishonesty does exact a price. Maybe not always, but it does happen.
I don't agree with all your points, but I do think you generate a lot good questions that need to be discussed. I'd like to see more responses to your comment, "Teaching ethics is not the issue; living and enforcing ethics is."

Amber Sosa said...

I feel that your environment can affect your behavior as far as holding yourself accountable. If I am working at being accountable and taking the bad with the good but those around me are only recognizing the good they do then it creates an akward situation for me. It really is hard to admit mistakes and errors, especially if you feel like the only one admitting them. I believe office leaders can make a dramtic impact on workers behavior by being open and encouraging self-accountability. Great post!

Anita said...

I certainly hear what you're's sort of like running with the "bad" crowd in school and trying to break away from them. It can be very tough to do. I think what this author was trying to emphasize in her book that we can go on a personal accountability quest on our own -- that while it may be difficult to do, in the end, we will benefit from it.
Thanks for your insightful comments.

Karl Staib - Work Happy Now said...

When we are honest with ourselves we are more likely to feel less stressed.

So true.

By being more aware of what is in our heart and abiding by these feelings we can create the type of career that makes us feel good. It's this honesty that also builds trust. I know I want to work with people I trust. So honesty can also be thought of as a networking tool.