Accountability: The Number 1 Habit for Success

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what is accountabilityDo you look at successful people and wonder how the heck they got there? Do you wonder how you can get/be/have that kind of success?

There are many roads that can lead to your success but this is the very first step you need to take.

According to author and entrepreneur, Jeff Olson, there are 7 positive productive habits of attitude and behaviour that will support you on your path to your dreams and the first one is all about personal accountability. He refers to it as ‘showing up’.

The term personal accountability has the ability to make one squirm like a KPI (Key Performance Indicator). There is extraordinary power in showing up and saying ‘it’s up to me’ because when you take responsibility and action you have the power to change, regardless of the goal.

Here’s a snippet from Jeff Olson’s book The Slight Edge about ‘showing up’:

Jeff Olson The Slight Edge QuoteThe world is rife with hesitation, the cornerstone of mediocrity. When you talk with people who have achieved extraordinary things and ask them how it was that they accomplished whatever it is they’ve done, it is stunning how often they will tell you some version of this: ‘I just decided to do it’. 

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? “I just decided to do it”

Whatever success you are hoping to see in your personal or professional life the first step is taking ownership, being accountable for change and making a start, no matter how small. So why the hesitation? Why don’t we just show up?

Fear: The Biggest Hurdle to Success

The main reason people fail to show up and try something new is that they are afraid. Afraid to look silly, sound silly, to have a go. To go into the forest of the unknown.

Sometimes implementing something new is daunting and feels awkward. “No one else seems to be doing ‘it’ why should I be the different one? I don’t want to stand out!” If you have been doing something the same way for a while, others may wonder and even comment on the change. They might even laugh. Worst of all, the first few times you try something new it might actually fail. But so what? Failure is a part of success. Roger Federer didn’t bounce into the world with 20 grand slam trophies, he failed his way to the top.  

Here’s a helpful acronym about the word FAIL

  • F: First

  • A: Attempt

  • I: In

  • L: Learning

Where Do You Sit on the Accountability Ladder?

What is Accountability This diagram, the Accountability Ladder, is something we show teams to help them understand why they may not be getting the results they want out of life personally or professionally. To help participants recognise behaviours that might be getting in the way of success, we break the ladder up into different levels with some sitting above the line and some sitting below the line.

  • The Responsible and Powerful (above)
  • Victims and Powerless (below)

Accountability Behaviours

Working from the bottom up, here’s what the different rungs mean – with thanks to an excellent blog on the subject by J Cowley Financial. 

The Victim and Powerless levels

Unaware/Unconscious – These are the people who are not even aware of the problem or there may even be a problem. For example, let’s just say you have poor hygiene, but you have no clue about it. In fact, you think you smell like a flower. Other people can smell your stench or notice it, but you have no clue. this would be the unaware or unconscious level.

Blame/Complain – It is always easy to point the finger at others in why goals or responsibilities are not getting done. Overcoming this step requires us to point the finger at ourselves and admit we may, in fact, be the problem, not other people or factors. An example of this would be someone who is constantly late to work in the morning because their spouse is spending too much time in the bathroom. When the real solution would simply be to wake up earlier.

Making excuses – I am good at this one. Making excuses as to why things are not getting done is very easy and a masked form of procrastination. We make excuses like “I am too busy” or “I have never done that before”. My favourite is “I don’t know what I am doing”. Stop making excuses and get it done!

Wait and hope – Waiters and hopers are those who do just that. Wait and hope for miracles and successes to happen in their lives without ever lifting a finger and having to actually go out and get it done. An example of this would be someone who really desires to be in good physical shape, but never eats healthy or exercises and hopes one day their body will be transformed. It’s just not going to happen without the effort.

Responsible and Powerful Levels

Acknowledging reality: People who are at this level look at the situation in black and white realising there are tasks which need to get done and they are responsible to do their part. An example of this would be a salesman who simply realizes he or she has to market, prospect, and acquire new clients if sales are going to increase. It is just the reality of the situation.

I own it: Now you have acknowledged the reality of the situation, we then get to decide if we are going to fall back down the ladder and make excuses like blame and complain, or if we are going to take ownership of the problem and move forward in creating solutions.

Seeking solutions: Owning the situation is key, and now you own it, the next step is to brainstorm and start thinking of solutions which allow you to hit your goal and get it done! Take the time necessary to think of the best possible solutions and come up with more than one. There is more than one way to eat a potato.

Make it happen: Now that you own it, and you have come up with solutions, it is time to implement and take action. Getting to this step is the best part. You get to put your solutions into action and literally accomplish your goals! Making it happen is the fruit of your labours and the old adage of “the harder I work, the luckier I get” becomes a reality.

Top 5 Accountability Actions

Now that you understand accountability and the behaviours that can prevent you from showing up (including fear of failure) here are some easy ways to start being accountable for what’s happening in your life every day.

1: Give up excuses. Making excuses for why things are not getting done is easy but are perceived as a masked form of procrastination. “I’m too busy” or “I have never done that before”  or “I don’t know what I am doing” are great excuse examples.

2: Give up blame. Giving up pointing the finger at others for why goals or responsibilities are not getting done, and owning the problems of your colleagues, staff or customers is another way to demonstrate your accountability. Overcoming this requires us to point the finger at ourselves and admit we may, in fact, be the problem, not other people or factors.

3: Seek Solutions. Ask yourself, “what else?” Can you do something else or maybe even start to think differently. Your confidante could be a good support here too.

4: Do something. Anything! Sure, there is a risk of nothing changing, but to do nothing guarantees you this outcome. Take a risk and don’t be scared to fail.

5: Keep score on yourself. What’s your commitment to action? Regularly review and encourage feedback to keep you on track.

Final Word

There are many roads that can lead to your success, whatever form you hope that success to be, the one action common for every single successful person, team or organisation is accountability. Sure, there is a risk that if you take on personal accountability, nothing will change, but there is a 100% guarantee that nothing will change if you don’t step up.

The next habit, by the way, is to do it consistently and we’ve written about that a number of times now. It’s how time is on our side when it comes to success.