Self-discipline, focus, and grit are all key components of making steady progress towards your ideal life. Behind all of these is the concept of accountability. Accountability means being responsible for your own actions and answering the consequences of those actions. It means not passing the buck and not shirking your responsibility. It’s a trait we all want to see in our leaders, and our leaders all want to see in us. With accountability, all things are possible. Without it, little of what’s worth doing is.
Accountability is a big buzzword among business executives. But accountability should not solely, or even predominantly, be in the business world. Personal accountability is a desirable trait in everyone, every family, and every organization. The benefits of accountability go far beyond a corporate setting, and can be felt in all aspects of life. Let’s find out why accountability is so important, and how we can build in into our life.
Accountability is the second most important part of building new processes. The most important part of building a new process is getting started, but accountability is what keeps you moving. Accountability is far more challenging in the long run than getting started. It’s the difference between a marathon and a sprint. As discussed in a previous post, I prefer the term “process” to systems or habits because process is all-encompassing. Process includes making the decision to change something, figuring out what you want the end result to be, determining what the systems and habits are that get to the end result, getting started, and finally, being accountable to your actions.
Setting the right conditions up front will help with accountability down the road. Having clear expectations, and building the proper systems and habits, helps set the right conditions. Accountability, like any other habit or skill, requires practice. It must be learned and developed, and that can only be done through deliberate, ongoing exercise. No one is born with an accountability gene.
The benefits of being an accountable person are massive. Beyond the likelihood of accomplishing more than you would without it, being accountable also:
- Builds Trust: Trust is built through time, but can be quickly lost. Building trust means fulfilling what you said you would do, and living based on your stated ideals. Good intentions are great, but good intentions mean nothing if you don’t follow them up with actions. Be the person who does what they say they will, and others know that they can count on.
- Improves Performance: Most people perform better under observation than when they are alone. That’s a well-researched fact. Few people perform as well working at home as they do in the office. It’s far easier to take a quick Facebook break at home than in the presence of others. The urge to not embarrass ourselves or be seen as a slacker in front of our coworkers is a big one, and helps you to follow through on your commitments.
- Inspires Confidence and Earns Respect: Who would you respect more: the gal who always showed up and quietly did what she said she would, or the guy with the big mouth who talked a big game but never followed through? Respect is earned from the actions you take, not the words that you say. Confidence from others is similar to trust in that it takes time to build, but once it’s there, it opens all kinds of doors. Similarly, confidence can easily be lost if accountability slips.
- Prevents Little Problems from Becoming Big Problems: This is one of the most understated benefits of accountability. Let’s say you miss a workout or two, and you lack strong personal accountability and do not have an accountability partner. Suddenly, a few misses becomes the new habit, and you’ve fallen off your healthy living process. Accountability will catch you from falling too far after that first miss. Instead of having to start from scratch again six months later and 15 pounds heavier, you get right back up on the horse and keep moving forward.
- Helps you Learn from Your Mistakes and Welcomes Feedback: None of us is perfect, and mistakes are going to happen. The mistake could be just a single action, or it could be more fundamental in the construction of your process. Having accountability allows us to revisit our actions and learn from our mistakes. If you’ve got an accountability partner (we all should), then accountability also welcomes honest feedback from that person. They’re not being mean or rude; they’re doing the best thing they can for us – helping us improve.
- Keeps You Engaged: The act of building a new process is exciting! You get to think about what your ideal life or outcome is, research how to build systems and habits around it, and are excited to start the process. But what happens in two weeks, two months, or two years? Having accountability helps you stay engaged, as you will be continually revisiting and tweaking your process.
Areas of Life
Accountability should be thought of as all-inclusive and be included in as many parts of your life as possible. Building processes and being accountable is what will allow you to lead an above average life. Many people are big talkers, but sadly, few actually follow through on the talk. Let’s look at the different areas of life where accountability is important.
- Personal: Without personal accountability, none of the rest matters. Ultimately, you are the one who controls your own destiny. External events beyond our control will always happen; some of these will be beneficial but most will set us back. Remember that these types of events impact everyone. How we react to these events is up to us. Personal accountability encompasses key processes like building better character and improving spiritual strength.
- Family/Relationships: In a close second behind personal accountability is family and relationship accountability. I have a wife and two children. Being accountable to them is the most important thing in the world to me. I want to be a loving husband and a caring and involved dad. Talking about it doesn’t impact how my wife and kids view me, only my actions do. Breaking personal commitments is one thing – we can often find justifications for those. But breaking commitments to your family and close friends negatively impacts their lives and yours.
- Physical: Without good health, everything else in life becomes exponentially more difficult. I find it incredibly sad to see an overweight person eating really unhealthy food or riding in those scooters at the grocery store. How much harder is nearly everything in life for them than it is for me? Being physically accountable means following through on your health goals and processes. Here is where accountability partners, particularly your spouse, significant other, roommate, or close friend, become important. Following through on eating well and being active is easier when others near you are doing the same.
- Career/Business: Being accountable in your career or business is probably easier than some of the other areas for one main reason: you have a very real external accountability partner. For a career, that person is your boss. For your business, that accountability partner is your net income statement and balance sheet. That being said, there are many jobs (though fewer businesses) where you can float through and still be okay. However, in order to build an above average life, excelling in your career or business is a necessity. Build processes at work just as you would in your personal life, and be accountable to them.
- Financial: Building a Great Family and a great life is easier when you have money. Sounds trite, but it’s also very true. Personal finance is, by its name, personal. Only you (and your family) can take the steps needed to be financially fit. Much like in your career or business, there is a natural accountability partner here: your bank/brokerage statements. It’s easy to see if you’re making progress, or if you’re stagnating.
As a husband and a father, I’m interested in developing a positive family culture. Just as in personal and professional lives, accountability is crucial to building character in all family members and in raising strong, resilient children. Remember that you have chosen to be the leader of your family. As the leader of your family, you set the example and you will inevitably screw up. Don’t look at a screw-up as something embarrassing; look at it as a learning and teaching opportunity. Own up to your mistakes. If you lost your temper with your five year old (and you will), go away for a minute, calm down, and then come back and apologize. Explain that you were wrong and that sometimes you make mistakes. Ask him or her to help hold you accountable; they’ll love it! Don’t slack off or allow yourself to slip without re-dedicating yourself; not even once.
Beyond providing a good example yourself, give as much responsibility to others as is reasonable. Have high expectations, communicate them well to others, and then have them hold each other accountable. I’m not suggesting abdicating all responsibility, but spreading it around gives everyone ownership in the process. It also allows them to fail occasionally, which as discussed above, is a good learning opportunity.
Accountability is clearly important. Knowing the importance of accountability is one thing, but actually maintaining accountability is another. Below are a few suggestions to help along what is often a tough path:
- Stop with the excuses: Only you can control your actions, and you can only control your actions. Stop blaming external factors. Negative externalities happen to everyone. It’s how you respond that makes the difference. Figure out why you failed and find a way to fix the problem. If it wasn’t a problem with your process, then pick yourself up and continue on. Sometimes we get hit in the chest for no reason. If there was one, find a way to improve your process for the next time.
- Have accountability partners: If you’re married or have a close family, then these are easy to find. Make sure you’re simultaneously not too tough, but not too easy on your spouse and vice versa. Regardless of your family situation, have accountability partners in as many areas as possible (money, career, health, family). Make others aware of your goals and systems, so that they can be an independent third party to help track your progress. Put your process in place for others to see and ask them to help hold you to it. Our performance improves under the eye of others.
- Set clear expectations: Recall that part of the process is determining what you want to accomplish or how you want to live. Without setting clear expectations for yourself and others, there’s no way to hold someone accountable or be held accountable. Also, all involved must be aware of both the positive outcomes and the negative consequences of not following the system or accomplishing the goal. Both carrots and sticks should be part of the process.
- Remember that it’s within you: Stop waiting for others to take charge or blaming others for your lot in life. It’s within you to make changes and improvements, and not anyone else. Don’t be afraid to set high expectations for yourself and your family. Own up to your mistakes and learn from them. Notice your mental biases and correct them. Focus on the specific actions you can do and then do them. Above all else, get started and then persevere.
Build the Process and Be Accountable
Building processes is what allows us to make positive changes to our lives. From determining what you want, to constructing the systems and habits needed to succeed, to getting started, processes can help improve you and those around you. These early steps are easy, but once you get started, the really hard part begins. Keeping yourself and others accountable is what determines whether you succeed or fail. Find ways to build it and don’t let the lack of accountability cause you to fail.
Keep building my friends.