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Owning It: Staying Accountable Is About Addressing Problems Head On

When it comes to personal accountability, we all tend to be generous to ourselves and say, “I’m always accountable, other people are the problem.”

Then reality hits us, proving that we aren’t, like ever. Becoming accountable is a hard transition to make (both for leadership and staff), but imperative to crafting a strong company culture and embracing what we call “iX Leadership.” (iX stands for internal experience)

It’s convenient to believe you are a victim of circumstance, for a while. We don’t mean victim as in a real, actual victim of a crime, but instead a false victim who conveniently absolves themselves from having to address issues head on.

It sounds like…

I was late because there was a storm and I’m not sleeping well…

It’s not my fault those reports are messed up—Suzie didn’t get me the information on time…

Sure, there may have been a storm, and sure, Suzie may also be suffering from a lack of accountability. However, real life problems do not excuse poor performance. Of course, they do require the use of the Mad Hatter Principle.

Playing a victim of circumstance allows people to pretend problems don’t exist. They ignore them, deny they are a problem, blame others, and rationalize issues under the rug. They think they are problem solving by stuffing issues in a corner and promptly forgetting about their existence—in reality they are making things worse. Those issues gain complexity and momentum while their backs are turned. When they are finally forced to face them, they are a much bigger issue than when they first occurred.

The better option is to be Accountable and encourage your team to do the same. Staying Accountable Is About Addressing Problems Head On, as soon as they occur. It means owning problems, forgiving others, looking in the proverbial mirror and self-examining, learning from your mistakes, and taking action to solve the problem.

Whether you’re a victim of circumstance or personally accountable, it all begins with choice.

When an issue occurs, we get to choose how we respond to it. We can own it, or we can deny it—the choice is ours. Deciding that you have control over how you react in tough situations is one of the most critical steps leaders take in becoming an iX Leader.

Ok great, now you’ll be amazing at accountability! Buh-bye! Kidding.

It takes lots of work to first convince yourself it’s worth it, then break bad habits, and finally hold everyone else accountable. We’ve discovered a few tricks while implementing accountability in our own organization:

  1. Focus on the work

It’s easy to start blame-shifting and finger-pointing when the conversation is focused on

“whodunit” instead of “why did it happen.” Keep the team’s eye on how to improve in the future, as opposed to throwing colleges under the bus.

  1. Talk it Out

Take the time to talk about what happened when goals aren’t met. That doesn’t mean dwell in the past, pass the blame torch around, or take turns explaining how each person goofed. It simply means to talk about what happened and make sure everyone feels good about moving forward. Encourage team members to think, blink, breath, and move on.

  1. Forgive

Forgiveness seems like a silly thing to think about. Do I really need to forgive myself or others? Yes. It doesn’t matter how tough you are or how big your ego is—forgiving is the critical step we all miss when trying to move forward, and therefore is the single biggest reason we don’t move on from an issue. Sometimes it may even take saying the words out loud to yourself. I forgive this person, or they’re okay by me. When you start to forgive people, you can really grow in self-examination, education, and action.

  1. Call out excuses

You may not be able to implement this one until the team is more comfortable with accountability and your leadership style, as it can seem like finger-pointing if everyone is not on board. Keep in mind, the delivery is also important. Calling out excuses is important because you want to make sure you aren’t giving excuses a platform. If ignored, you and the team could easily be drug back down to the Victim Loop. You can say things like, “That sounds like an excuse, what is a solution?”

  1. Document results of success and failure

The human brain wants proof in order to continue following a protocol. That’s why it’s

important to show that the Personal Accountability Model is working for the group. We’re not proposing you hire a counselor to document each team member’s feelings. Instead, have a chat with the group once in a while to say, “Boy, that went much more smoothly than before,” or joke a little about almost falling into the Victim Loop. The more you talk about how things are working, the quicker the approach will be adopted by the group.

We hope you enjoyed this exclusive excerpt from Rachel Headley & Meg Manke’s new book iX Leadership: Create High-Five Cultures and Guide Transformation. For more information or to obtain a copy, please click here.


Written by: Dr. Rachel MK Headley & Meg Manke, MSSL; Senior Partners at Rose Group Int’l.

Dr. Rachel MK Headley is a Mensa PhD Scientist and a certified Project Management Professional who brings a methodical and razor-sharp intellect to solve problems that suit her client organization, its ideal culture, and business goals. Meg Manke, MSSL, is a culture and leadership expert with years of experience leading companies large and small through major transitions, mergers & acquisitions, and behavior-based training and development.

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Rose Group Int'l

Rose Group Int'l

Contributor at CEOWORLD magazine
Rose Group Int'l are transition experts. Partnering at Rose Group Int'l, Dr. Rachel MK Headley and Meg Manke, MSSL developed their proprietary iX leadership framework which allows business leaders to solve problems within their teams, address generational issues, manage big changes, and accomplish their most ambitious goals.
Rose Group Int'l

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