The Big Lie About Accountability

“I am not bound to win but I am bound to be true; I am not bound to succeed but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”
Abraham Lincoln

 Millions of people are suffering from A Big Lie.  They have been taught from birth to go to school and earn a degree because THEN they will get a good job and be happy.  Unfortunately, there are millions of people walking the streets with their degree in hand and no job in sight. 

What happened?  They believed that getting an education was the same thing as getting a degree. They never learned … or they were never taught … that “education” comes from the Latin word “educo,” meaning to educe, to develop, or draw out from within.   True “education” is about developing your God-given powers, demonstrated by what you DO, not what you KNOW.

The result?  We have ended up with a society that has recognized and rewarded people for what they KNOW, not what they DO.  Just look at many of our elected officials who hold positions of leadership but have never once in their life held a job or made a paycheck.  And THE BIG LIE always leads to a society that is exceedingly long on entitlement and desperately short on accountability.

That’s exactly why so many organizations have been asking me to deliver keynotes and seminars on “The Leadership Payoff:  How The Best Leaders Bring Out The Best In Others … And So Can You.” 

And with THIS BIG LIE causing so much damage, I see lots of bosses (and coworkers) who are supremely frustrated by the lack of accountability they see in the people around them.  As Walter Kerr described one employee, “He had delusions of adequacy.”  I even see the frustration leak out in performance reviews.

Believe it or not, the following excerpts were actually taken from real performance reviews.

   “Since my last report, this employee has reached rock bottom … and has started to dig.”

   “I would not allow this employee to breed.”

   “This employee is really not so much a ‘has-been’ but more of a definite ‘won’t be’.”

   “He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.”

   “The wheel is turning, but the hamster is dead.”

If you want to create a culture of accountability in your organization or team, executive coach Marjorie Brody says you must do five things.  I agree with her five points, but let me put my own personal spin on each of the items.

1.  Instill an attitude of “I take responsibility.”

It’s no secret that life is not fair.  But great people … or highly effective people … get over the infantile attitude that life “should” be fair.  And they stop blaming everybody else for their problems or lack of progress. 

As I tell my audiences, “When I have pains, it does not give me permission to be a pain.”  Or as Brody puts it, “Things will not always go your way.  Everyone will not agree with you, get along with you, or treat you the way you would like.  Pick yourself up and move on.”  After all, if you’re in a job situation, remember you’re getting paid for this.  So it’s time to think of your job as a gift.

Personally, I think Mark Collis, a Senior Analyst at ArcelorMittal Dofasco, one of my thousands of “Tuesday Tip” subscribers, does a great job of instilling an attitude of responsibility.  As he writes, “Dr. Zimmerman, I have been coaching ‘Learn to Run’ clinics for seven years.  I do it on the side because I enjoy coaching and gain a tremendous amount of satisfaction helping others succeed at something they thought they would never be able to do.”
“I tell them at the start, if they can run for one minute, I can get them to 5 kilometers without stopping. I don’t guarantee the time, just the distance.  If people follow through with the program I outline, I’ve never had someone not complete the distance.” 

“I have found over the years that if you want something in life, you need three things:  1) Desire, 2) Time, and 3) A Plan.  Without all three, the chances of success are minimal; but with all three, success is virtually guaranteed.”

The same thing can be said when you have mastered … or someone has taught you to have an attitude of responsibility.  Your success is virtually guaranteed.

2.  Perform, perform, perform.

When you see accountability, you always see performance.  That’s why Southwest Airlines tells its employees, “Success is never owned. It is rented, and the rent is due every day.”  In other words, it’s not good enough to do a good job one day and a mediocre job another day. 

In our extremely difficult economic environment, Brody says your job security is your responsibility.  You’ve got to do your job better than anyone else could do it, and you’ve got to be deeply involved in the process of preparing yourself for your current job as well as your future jobs. 

That might sound harsh, but accountable people understand these harsh realities and keep on performing.  That’s why I tell my audiences in “The Payoff Principle:  How To Motivate Yourself To Win Every Time In Any Situation,” the biggest mistake you can make is to believe that you work for someone else.

People of accountability know that no one owes them a living, and they are never satisfied with “good enough.”  They perform well all the time … period!  As British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher noted, “Look at the day when you are supremely satisfied at the end.  It’s not the day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.” 

3.  Develop a reputation worthy of respect.

As Brody would say, “Your reputation is your brand” and “Reputations and relationships rule.”

Unfortunately, stupid people say, “I don’t care what people think about me or say about me.”  Accountable people care what people think and say about them, so they EARN positive reputations that make them not only known but also liked, trusted, and followed.

To achieve that kind of reputation, make sure you do the following: 

Up your honesty. Even though very few people in organizations are outright liars and cheaters, the “honesty” that goes on between colleagues, superiors, and subordinates comes in many shades of gray that destroy accountability.  Imagine how much better things would be if people were to say of you and others, “I don’t always like what he/she says, but I do know it’s the truth.”

Avoid reputation killers.  Avoid any improper uses of the technology in your organization.  Disagree with others without disrespecting them.  Always be the professional … even if the other person is being a jerk.  And always do the right thing, even if no one else is looking. 

Narrow your focus.  Ineffective people are often characterized by frantic activity and/or feelings of hopelessness and fear. By contrast, accountable people clarify what’s important. They eliminate extraneous activities. They hone their priorities down to a sacred few rather than the trivial many.

Simplify your implementation.  Break down your tasks and solutions into easy, doable steps. Give up complicated charts and tracking mechanisms. They waste valuable time. All great visions happen one step at a time. So come back to earth; put your feet on the ground, and ask yourself, “What’s really important?” and “What can I achieve today?”  People respect big results more than big talk.

Do what you say you’re going to do.  If you say you’re going to be at a meeting at a certain time, be there at that time, not 10 minutes later.  As consultant Darcy Hitchcock puts it, “Employees are professional ‘boss watchers.’  That is, what managers say means nothing unless their actions model what they say.”

In the long run, all these things will build your reputation … and say you are accountable.

4.  Act with courage. 

People of accountability do what has to be done and say what has to be said … even though it may not be politically correct.  As Brody advises, “Be honest.  Be bold.  Be smart.” 

Simon Cutknife, another one of my “Tuesday Tip” followers, is one such person.  His heart stopped twice when he was thirteen, lost his left arm in his twenties, and has gone through nine near-death experiences, receiving severe burns to his face and breaking almost every bone in his body.  Those experiences taught him something about persistence and resiliency.

But it was in the job market that he had to act with courage to get the job he wanted.  As he told me, “Before I received my job as a suicide prevention worker, I went through seven job interviews.  And even though I never got a ‘yes’ or a phone call from those interviewers, I decided I would not take it personally.  In my mind, there was no ‘no.’  I let it motivate me to go further and simply prepared myself for the next interview.”

“I approached the next set of interviews with courage.  Soon the interviews became a hobby-like activity.  I looked forward to them because I was learning how to give and receive feedback, how to answer certain questions to the best of my ability, and how to use my body posture, eye contact, and tone of voice to make my points.  I became an even more confident person and got the job I wanted.”

Simon knows that his willingness to act with courage … to do what he has to do … to do the RIGHT thing … makes him a person of accountability.

The other half of courage is to refrain from doing the WRONG thing or being with the WRONG people. 

As a member of an elite group of seven people known as Master Speakers International, I have learned numerous lessons from Bill Lee, one of our members.  He says, “About 99 times out of 100 … should you get into trouble … it is because you were with someone you shouldn’t be with … doing something you shouldn’t be doing … in someplace you shouldn’t be.”

Accountable people say “no” to doing the wrong thing with the “wrong” people.  Or as educator Tehyi Hsieh adds, “Lean too much upon the approval of people, and it becomes a bed of thorns.”

Finally, if you’re going to be seen as an accountable individual, or if you’re trying to instill accountability into others, you need to…

5.  Get some perspective.

People who are truly accountable never look at a job as “just a job” and never go around saying “another day, another dollar.”  Accountable people have a much bigger perspective on what they do and how they fit into the overall scheme of things.

In other words, accountable people want to make a difference.  They want to contribute.  They want to be successful … not only for their own sake … but also for their company, customers, and coworkers. 

Accountable people are professionals because they know that a “professional” is NOT ABOUT a job title … such as being a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or business manager.  Being a “professional” is ALL ABOUT the way in which a person does his/her job.  Indeed, I have known retail clerks, custodians, and waitresses who were more professional than other people with 3 or 4 degrees and 8 or 10 years of college training.

Leo Tolstoy, the novelist and philosopher knew about that.  He wrote, “Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them.” In other words, success starts with the right perspective.

And sales coach Tom Hopkins teaches his clients the same thing.  He says, “You begin by always expecting good things to happen.”

We are living in a time when we need accountable leaders and accountable team members more than ever.  The good news is … accountability can be taught and it can be learned.  Start with these 5 tips.

Action:  Write down 3 ways you can encourage your customers to be more open and honest with you. Then try out these 3 methods to see which one works the best.