Being Accountable Gives You Power
When something ‘bad’ happens, my seven-year-old is quick to ask who is at fault, hoping, of course, it’s not him. I’m trying to get him to use the word accountability instead, and to understand that if he has some accountability, he has some control over what happens. If he has no accountability, he has no control. A tough concept for a seven-year-old.
Stuff happens. People won’t give you what you need to complete projects. Things will break. When breakdowns happen, I always ask myself, “What could I have done to prevent this situation?” or “What did I do to help create this situation?”
It may sound odd that I always look at myself when breakdowns occur, even when it’s someone else who didn’t do their job. It’s just easier. When I can identify something I could have done to make a situation go differently, I feel more in control – aka better.
I’m the person who gets off a highway jammed with traffic. The alternative route may end up taking longer, but at least I’m moving. I feel like I’m doing something and thus have more control. Taking responsibility for what happens to you is similar. When you’re accountable for what happens, you can do something to improve your situation. When someone else is accountable, you’re at the mercy of other people and have very little control.
There are, of course, exceptions to the practice that “we’re accountable.” Terrible and unfair acts of violence, crime, and illness happen to people, about which they have no control. But in general, in our day-to-day lives, there is typically something we did to contribute to a bad situation or something we can do to improve it.
Here are four practices for improving difficult situations even when you didn’t create the mess (alone).
- Ask more questions. If you’re not clear as to what someone is expecting from you, ask. Even if their instructions aren’t clear, it is you who will likely be held accountable later.
- Tell people what you think they’re expecting and what you’re planning to do, to ensure everyone’s expectations are aligned. This beats doing weeks’ worth of work, only to discover what you created isn’t what someone else had it mind.
- Ask for specific feedback as projects progress. Don’t wait until the end of a project to find out how you performed.
- Admit when you make a mistake or when you wish you had done something differently. Don’t wait for someone to tell you. Saying, “I’m sorry. How can I make this right with you?” goes a long way.
These are really delegation practices.
I am always asking the questions, “What could I have done differently? What did I do to contribute to this situation, what can I do now to make this situation better?” I encourage you to do the same, even when someone else drops the ball. You can’t control others, but you can control you. And your happiness and success is your responsibility.