May 11 – Responsibility, accountability and success

Writer’s note. I missed posting on May 11, so this one is out of sequence in my 365 project. No need to adjust your calendar, there was not an interruption in the time /space continuum.

“Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility. In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility.” (Michael Korda)

There are two ways I look at the notion of accepting responsibility, and both fit with this quote. On the one hand, it means that you take on more work, and more tasks for which you are responsible. On the other hand, it is about accepting responsibility for your actions – or being accountable. To me, both are required to be successful.

In any job, I can do what is assigned to me, and do it very well. That will get me so far. It will show that I can complete assignments, and do quality work. I often coach those that work for me that just doing what is assigned to them will put them right in the middle. They will be adequate employees, and I will know that I can rely on them to do their jobs well.

I also know that if I want to get ahead, I have to seek out and take on additional responsibilities, even without them being my assignment. I am not talking about poaching other people’s work. I am talking about seeing things that need to be done, that may not be assigned, and taking them on. I tell my team members the same thing. To me, the mark of a motivated person is one who can not only do their assigned work, but can actively take on and be successful at things above and beyond.

The other side of the responsibility card is the one that relates to accountability. Inevitably I will make mistakes in my job. I have, and will again, make errors in judgment, or I will forget to do something that is important. When this happens, I can approach the error in a number of ways.

I can look to find someone else to blame. In a large and complex organization, it is rare that my actions stand completely on their own. My work is interdependent with the work of many other people, so finding someone else’s work to blame for my own mistake isn’t that farfetched. But I won’t be successful if that is my pattern.

When I make a mistake, I can make excuses. I can cite difficult processes or delays in my work that were outside my control. When asked if I made a mistake I can say “yes, but…”. It might be plausible and even likely that my errors had contribution from such outside influences, and I might not be lying to say that they had a hand in causing my mistake. But, I won’t be successful if that is my way.

To be successful I have to be able to accept not only the responsibility of the work of an assignment, but also the accountability to get it done. I have found that my management appreciates that accountability and my willingness to work to fix the error far greater than any efforts to fix blame or make excuses.

To be sure, there are times when something goes wrong which truly is not my error, and I am not saying that I will take it on the chin, or be reprimanded for other people’s mistakes. But, I am saying that I can take on the accountability to fix things, even if I am not the cause of the issue.

Some would say this can be dangerous. If I constantly take on accountability, even if it isn’t clearly my error, than am I not opening myself to criticism for mistakes that aren’t mine? Perhaps, but I prefer to see it differently. For those in my management who truly need to know what the root cause of a problem is, I can privately lay out the facts and let them make their own assessment. If I have the blame, then I accept it. If not, they will know what they want to do with the data. But in the meantime, I can be seen as the problem solver. To me, that is far more valuable to the organization, and far more satisfying to me personally.

I think that success on any scale is related to accepting responsibility. To be successful on a large scale, I must first be successful on the lower rungs of the ladder. Taking on responsibility and accountability is the surest way to the next step, wherever I am.

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