Procrastination, blame, and downright laziness. It’s easy to put off tasks and responsibilities, but if you want to be successful, you need accountability. A lot has been written about the power of partners or groups, but you may be the best person to get you where you want to go.
John G. Miller, author of QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life, says, “It’s natural and normal to externalize and look outside of us for answers and find fault with others when things go wrong. We ask, ‘Who dropped the ball?’ ‘When is that department going to do its job right?’ ‘Why do we have to go through change?’ We start to get things done, however, when we practice personal accountability.”
Being accountable requires adopting a new way of thinking. Start by eliminating questions that begin with “why,” “when,” or “who.”
“When you ask ‘why,’ you go into victim thinking,” says Miller. “When you ask ‘when,’ you’re putting off action, and that is procrastination. And when you ask ‘who,’ you’re blaming. Blame is the worst sin inside corporations because you point the finger at your own team, and that damages morale and productivity.”
Instead, turn those questions around, looking for the question behind the question, says Miller, and these questions start with “what” or “how.”
“In the moment it’s easier to think, ‘Why doesn’t my boss do this?’ Or ‘When is the world going to give me more?’” he says. “It takes discipline and emotional strength to ask, ‘What can I do to be my best today?’ and ‘How can I be better to avoid mistakes the next time?’”
The next step in moving toward personal accountability is to begin statements that contain the word “I” instead of “we,” and this can take bravery. “It’s easy to hide behind a group,” says Miller, whose company, QBQ, Inc., has provided accountability training for Fortune 100 companies. “When you say, ‘The team didn’t get it done,’ all you’re doing is hiding behind them and blaming. You need to ask different questions, such as, ‘What can I do differently today?’
“You can’t change we,” he says. “It can be painful to look in the mirror, but I can only change me. Personal accountability always comes back to me.”
After you change the questions, your answers must contain actions, says Miller. “What action can I take?” he asks. “This takes you immediately out of the blame game, out of victim thinking, and out of procrastination. Procrastination is a friend of failure.”
Goals should include concrete actions, says Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before. “If you resolve to ‘get more joy out of life’ or ‘embrace the present,’ it’s hard to hold yourself accountable,” she writes on her blog. “It’s easier to be answerable for a specific action like ‘spend at least one hour a week hiking’ or ‘sit in a chair for 15 minutes every day with no distractions.’”
Once you know where you’re going, track your results. Rubin suggests keeping a chart as a visual way to hold yourself accountable, and she carries hers around with her. “At least once each day, I review and score my[self],” she writes.
This is also the time to course correct and chart your next steps, adds Meridith Elliott Powell, author of Own It: Redefining Responsibility. “Set aside quiet time when you can reflect on what you are doing that is working, and on what you are doing that is not,” she says. “Then establish what you need to change, adjust, or get help with in order to continue to improve your overall success rate.”
Personal accountability not only benefits the individual; it builds strong companies. When employees feel accountable for their work, they are more likely to contribute to solving problems and achieving organizational goals, says Miller.
“Believing that if others would change, everything would be better, drives people apart,” he says. “The fastest way to enhance relationships is to remove the blame that breaks them down. Whether it’s selling more products, building stronger connections, or making political change, owning up and taking responsibility can help us move forward.”