Personal accountability is when you take ownership AND responsibility for goals and outcomes. I once read that, “Responsibility is taking ownership of actions and accountability is taking ownership of the results.” Keeping the mindset of accountability can be difficult, but the cost of not focusing on this area can be much worse and lead to bad organizational habits that weaken clarity about responsibilities and further damage accountability in your organization.
I find that integrity and accountability are often in the driver’s seat of my behavior. I am quick to own my mistakes, I find it easy to look internally at situations and request feedback, and I often proactively address potential challenges and obstacles before starting a project. I also don’t mind over-clarifying roles and responsibilities.
Here are three unique mindsets or exercises that I use to help keep accountability top of mind:
1. Future Self
If I am beginning a project or starting my day by looking over my actions list, I will ask myself this question, “What does future Stephenie think?” This question will instantly give me clarity and help me keep the big picture in mind. “Should I work on this important project with an unclear deadline or spend 30 minutes on small emails?” Future Stephenie says the project results matter more than the emails right now. “Should I eat this cake or go on a walk?” Future Stephenie says the cake will make me feel better at this moment, but the walk will leave me feeling good all afternoon. This may be a bit silly, but I promise your future self often knows what is best and can help cut the inner monologue time down to what matters most. It can also be effective to assign an age to future self to gain even more insight. 78-year-old Stephenie feels very different than 59-year-old Stephenie! When I am struggling with a decision, my future self helps me own my actions.
2. Mirror Game
I find it is easier to blame and much more challenging to look inward when it comes to a mistake or situation. “This wouldn’t have happened if X had done Y as I asked.” But instead, what I should be asking is, “What can I do differently to help?” or “What actions did I take that contributed to this result?” It could be a lack of clarity, process, or maybe they didn’t feel comfortable asking me questions! Every time you come across a physical mirror or your reflection, use this visual as a cue and reminder! Take responsibility for your part in every situation, and if you don’t think you’ve played a role, then request feedback – because you definitely did. When we take the time to acknowledge how we have contributed to problems, we develop personal accountability.
3. All the W’s
If you are being asked or assigned a task or project, ask all your W’s or get clarity on when you can ask all of your W’s. What I mean by that is: Who, What, When, and Why.
- WHO: Who is responsible? Who else is responsible?
- WHAT: What is the ask? What is the cost if this task doesn’t get completed? What resources do I need to complete it? What can get in the way?
- WHEN: When is the deadline? When will we check-in next? When can I work on this?
- WHY: How is this connected to our mission, vision, purpose, or goals? Why does this task matter?
If I am uncomfortable asking these questions in a meeting, I might ask, “Could we spend a few minutes after this meeting so I can ask some questions on the front-end to ensure a successful start?” Or start introducing the concept of all the W’s to your team so it’s acceptable to ask them at any time. Getting uncomfortable and asking these on the front-end is better than being uncomfortable missing deadlines because of lack of clarity on the back end.
Practice using these exercises to help build that accountability muscle. You’ll end up driving better results, impacting change, and reducing your own frustrations. Your future self agrees.
Author – Stephenie Rockwell
InteraWorks is a global learning company on a mission to elevate the human experience at work. Specializing in professional development and performance enablement, we offer top-rated learning programs based on four defined conditions that must exist for individuals, teams including Effective Edge, Best Year Yet, and the Essentials series. Our integrated learning framework and online tools generate immediate and sustainable breakthroughs in performance. Through decades of working at all levels in enterprise companies across many industries, we’ve built a reputation for helping people and organizations harness their focus, mindset, talent and energy to produce results that matter most.
We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.