What Makes a Person Accountable?

What Makes a Person Accountable?

Are you as sick of the “blame game” as I am? Occupy Wall Street protestors blame the “nasty, greedy, wealthy” companies and their executives for their suffering. Politicians spin stories about how the current economy is someone else’s fault. Retail workers claim it’s not their fault that a product is out of stock. (After all, that other department orders it.)  These are obviously examples of what accountability is not. So, what makes a person accountable?

What is Personal Accountability?

Personal accountability means that I am 100% responsible for:

  • my choices
  • my feelings
  • my opinions
  • my beliefs
  • my actions
  • the results and the consequences of all of the above.

Linda Galindo, author of “The 85% Solution”, goes further:

Unlike responsibility (the before) and self-empowerment (the during), personal accountability is the after. It’s a willingness—after all is said and done—to answer for the outcomes of your choices, actions, and behaviors. When you’re personally accountable, you stop assigning blame, “should-ing” on people, and making excuses. Instead, you take the fall when your choices cause problems.

Locus of Control

Locus of control is a psychological term referring to a belief system of an individual.  It is either internal or external and identifies where, to whom or to what you assign responsibility or control for what happens, regardless of the outcome. It is highly dependent upon situational demands and the immediate environment. You can have internal locus in a situation and external one in another. Julian Rotter originated this concept in the 1950’s. This orientation is also the primary determinant of an individual’s accountability and is illustrated  by the sliding scale below.

         External-“Victim Thinking”                                                          Internal-“Accountable Thinking”Line

External Locus: “Victim Thinking” 

If you have an external locus of control, then you believe factors (people, diseases, luck, etc.) outside of your control are responsible for your failure, unhappiness and disappointment. If you don’t experience yourself as being in control, how can you be responsible?

If you have a Victim mentality, you believe that you are helpless. Everything always happens to you, and you experience external stimuli as negative or even tragic. You blame others and project an image that you are doing your best in spite of THEM.  Nothing is your fault. You are angry most of the time and annoyed or complaining about almost everything. You are a master of blame and unconscious rationalization which allows you to see yourself as an honest and good person. You do not understand that your preferred weapons of blame and judgment separate you from those with whom you want to connect most. Through this process of self-justification, you believe your own lies and are blind to any errors that can be attributable to yourself.

Feeling in control promotes self-confidence. Is it surprising, then, that an external locus of control also results in low self-esteem and a mindset that others (not ME) need to change?

Internal Locus: “Accountable Thinking”

If you have an internal locus of control, you believe that you can control (or at least influence) the events in your life and how you experience them. Outcomes are products of your freely chosen decisions and actions. Even though some external events are out of your control, you understand that you are in total control of how you experience them.  Ultimately, you control the quality of your life.  You consistently honor your commitments and responsibilities. You do what you know you should do when you need to do it. You seldom make excuses. Your learning mindset fertilizes your routine reflection.

Conclusions:

After many discussions with my member executives and months of reading and thinking, I conclude that:

  1. An internal locus of control kills “Victim” thinking and is the foundation of personal accountability.
  2. Accountability in organizations ONLY happens when its employees are personally accountable.
  3. Although some accountability is learned in homes or schools, it is not sufficient to create the peaceful societies and profitable businesses that I know are possible. I base this on my personal and professional experiences. For example,  my members consistently experience 50-60% of job applicants failing their drug and alcohol tests. Of the remaining 40-50%, few show initiative. Unless the applicant has read self-help books or participated in a personal or spiritual development program, then true personal accountability is a foreign concept. .
  4. Most people don’t understand the concept of locus of control and accountability. This knowledge gap needs to be closed. If you, as a CEO or President, want accountable employees, you need to first be a role model for them, and then teach and continually coach your workforce.
  5. Everyone chooses to be, or not to be, accountable. Some individuals do not want to want to lose their “Victim” stories. After educating and coaching these employees, respect these individuals’ choices, and exercise your own choice of employing them!

In my next blog, I will summarize a couple of models that you can use to increase your awareness of your own accountability and use it to teach your workforce.

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2 thoughts on “What Makes a Person Accountable?”

  1. Bob Fritz says:

    You have just exactly described my brother-in-law. The trick is how do we get him to change from an external “victim” locus of control to an internal one?

  2. Bob,

    We can’t change force them to change. You can ask if he open to some feedback, educate him about locus of control and an accountability model (that’s part 2 that will be posted in a couple of weeks) and then coach him. If he not open to learning, then there is nothing you can do. Some people choose to hold on to their helplessness. I also recommend giving him the book Learned Optimism.

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