Let’s Talk About Personal Accountability

I am convinced that if every person on this planet decided to be personally accountable, we would finally achieve world peace – seriously! President Harry S. Truman was a champion of accountability. He had a sign with the inscription “The Buck Stops Here” on his desk that was meant to indicate that he didn’t “pass the buck” to anyone else but accepted personal responsibility for the way the country was governed.

Personal accountability is about following through on your commitments and doing what you said you’d do. It’s about recognizing that others are dependent on the results of your work. It’s also about open, proactive communication to keep others informed on the status of your commitments because it has a direct impact on their ability to achieve their own commitments.

Not surprisingly, accountability in the workplace is linked to higher performance. The question this brings us to is, “How do you know you’re being personally accountable?” Enter the Ladder of Accountability.

I came across the Ladder of Accountability when researching high performance. Unfortunately, I could not find to whom I should give credit for this great piece of work; however, apparently it has been utilized for many years in business courses across the globe.

The Ladder of Accountability has eight rungs:

  1.  I Didn’t Know: If you’re sitting on this rung you pretend there isn’t a problem. As if not acknowledging it will make it not exist.
  2. Blame Others: This is where you are aware the problem exists, but deny responsibility and shift blame to others. If you’ve read my book, Quit Bleeping Around: 77 Secrets to Superachieving, you know that blaming others is for losers!
  3. Excuses: When you are sitting here, you avoid responsibility by claiming confusion or incompetence. You’re avoiding tough issues and situations.
  4. Wait & Hope: When you are here, you know that there is a problem that requires action, but decide to wait and hope that things will magically improve.

All of the four rungs on the bottom of the ladder are considered “victim behaviors.” This is where your mindset is that things are happening to you – you take no responsibility for either your behavior or your responses to external issues that arise. Now on to the “accountable behaviors” where instead of things happening to you, things happen because of you.

  1.  Acknowledge Reality: When you are here, you acknowledge the reality of the situation, event, or circumstances.
  2. Own It: When you are here you own the problem and honor your commitments and responsibilities. No excuses, no blaming others.
  3. Find Solutions: When you are here, you own the problem and the solution. You actively seek to implement solutions either by yourself or through others.
  4. Make It Happen: When you are here, whether or not you are the sole decision-maker, you assume responsibility for implementing the solution and ensuring its success. You are completely personally accountable.

Even the more accountable of us vary which rung they are on depending on the circumstances. For example, you may normally find yourself on the top half of the ladder, but then blame traffic for being late to a meeting, which means you dip down to the second or third rung.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to improve your personal accountability today:

  • Do I admit my mistakes, am I honest with myself, and look at what my role is when things go wrong?
  • Do I voluntarily apologize and take responsibility when something goes wrong?
  • Do I continually seek feedback from others on how I can improve myself as well as look for ways I can make positive changes in my work or home environment?
  • Do I seek out responsibility, get things done, and carefully review my bandwidth before agreeing to new responsibilities?
  • Do I meet my commitments and don’t make ones I can’t keep?

Just a few things for you to reflect on today!

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