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What do you normally do when something goes wrong? Do you point fingers, make excuses or take responsibility? Would you rather ask questions, play victim or blame someone else? Do you say things like: “I didn’t have enough time.” “That’s not my job.” “I didn’t know”. These are very common responses within a group setting: from the floor shop to Management; ministries to government; Business leaders to Regulators; husband to wife - all pointing fingers at each other and themselves. These statements have one thing in common: focus on others and deflection from us. It reminds me of an advice given years ago by a senior colleague as I joined a multinational. He (they were mostly male in those days) said: “Never let the ball drop in your court; if it lands, pass it back quickly”. This was buck-passing at its best and I am sure a lot of us are guilty.
The reasons for this attitude are numerous, fear of reprisals, ignorance and a prevalent blame culture in the workplace and society today. Its effect can have an enormous impact on any institution.
Blame is to “find fault with” and generally, it shames others because you are searching for something wrong with them. Little wonder then that people tend to deflect any blame from themselves? Unfortunately, blame creates a vicious cycle because wherever it exists, there is fear, which in turn leads to cover-ups. This will definitely affect the flow of information and create a wrong knowledge of the current reality. When this happens, the ability to solve problems effectively is hindered.
For instance, your direct report has created a six feet hole but tells you it’s two because he is afraid the truth might affect his bonus. So you dump enough cement mixture for the supposedly two feet hole. The result? More errors as you are short and the blame cycle starts all over again! Blame only provides early artificial solutions to complex issues and does not bring about improvement, learning or accountability.
A lack of personal accountability is another reason for blame. This has not been helped by the context of accountability in the workplace, which is usually perceived as a form of punishment, reprimand or blame. Unfortunately, employees who are frustrated or afraid of losing control often validate this. All the same, accountability is one of the main roots of personal empowerment and the centre of learning and improvement – in order words, self development.

Accountability as we know it, is a reflection on one’s level of integrity, and leads to trust when the situation involves other people. It results in actions that support one’s words.  It could also be defined as how an individual created, promoted or allowed a situation (positive or negative) to occur or their reaction to the situation. It is a two relationship and results oriented. It requires reporting, comes with consequences and improves performance. Its foundation is Personal Accountability.
My favourite definition of Personal Accountability is the “willingness to claim 100% ownership for the results produced as a consequence of your involvement, both individually and collectively, with others in your workplace” (William A. Guillory, CEO Innovations International Inc). It is an accountability relationship with oneself and an internal responsibility to be accountable. It involves looking to oneself for personal results and a willingness to explain your actions.

This means you have to challenge yourself to improve the way you carry out your responsibilities. You have to look within for answers instead of pointing fingers and placing blame on others. You do not mirror others around you but set the example by focusing on the face you see in the mirror i.e. yours. The late Michael Jackson got it so right in his hit tune – Man in the Mirror:
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any Clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change



But what really drives personal accountability?  Why do some people break laws and others would rather die than commit an offence? The path to personal accountability starts from your mindset, the centre of your thoughts because we tend to focus on the things we think about. This controls our choices, attitudes, behaviours, and actions to either do the right and ethical thing or its opposite. The Bible explained it so simply – “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23: 7, and it does not matter if you are at home, in the office or the palace.   
So how can you be more Personally Accountable, particularly in an environment that is not supportive of accountability most of the times?

          1. 1. When something goes wrong, the questions you ask tend to send messages about what your focus is and your values. In his book The Question behind the Question John G. Miller explains how negative, incorrect questions beginning with: when, who or why, represent a lack of Personal Accountability.  Better questions have three elements:  how or what, “I” and an action. They resolve problems and eliminate blame.  So, instead of “When will they train me?” ask “How can I develop and improve myself?”
    1. 2. Be true to your word and honour your commitments - your yes must be yes and your no, no. Don’t promise what you cannot deliver.
    2. 3. Focus on what you can control - you, your attitude, thoughts, actions, choices – to influence appropriate behaviours.
    3. 4. Apply the Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz):
      1. Be impeccable with your words: Speak with integrity and say only what you mean. 
      2. Don’t take anything personally: What others say and do is a projection of their own reality; when you are immune to the opinions and actions of others you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
      3. Don’t make assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and clearly communicate with others to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
      4. Always be your best: Your best may change from moment to moment but at all times simply be your best and you will avoid self-judgment,  self-abuse, and regret
    4. 5. If you make a mistake, admit it. Then work immediately to resolve and use it as a springboard for moving forward.
    5. 6. Talk is cheap! Walk your talk by doing what you preach – particularly if you are in a leadership position. Be the change you want to see in others.

Being personally accountable is a journey that involves a continual pursuit of self development, improving relationships and increasing performance.  It is the process of making the choice to grow. What can stop you?