It’s easy to assume that you’re an accountable person if you don’t tell outrageous lies and generally follow through on your commitments. But Julie Miller and Brian Bedford say that even small lapses can affect the way others see you.
Most people, if asked, would say that they are accountable. After all, they don’t lie about their behavior – particularly work behavior – and they don’t try to shift blame if they are at fault when an incident occurs or a mistake happens.
But are they truly in the clear? Probably not, say Julie Miller and Brian Bedford, co-authors of Culture Without Accountability – WTF? What’s the Fix? They contend that most of us are guilty of small behaviors that crack our accountability façade and hurt us, both personally and professionally, far more than we realize.
“We know from the Lance Armstrongs, Jerry Sanduskys, and Bernie Madoffs of the world what accountability absolutely isn’t,” notes Miller. “But rarely do we stop to examine what accountability is in action. That’s why it’s so easy for little behaviors – ‘accountability killers,’ if you will – to worm their way unnoticed into our lives.”
In their book, Miller and Bedford examine what can happen when businesses, teams, families and individuals shirk accountability. The book is full of real-life stories of what accountability looks like and what can go wrong in its absence.
“Often, we’re critical of these behaviors when we see them displayed by other people, but we give ourselves a pass when we’re the ones engaging in them,” comments Bedford. “We tell ourselves, ‘It’s just a one-time thing. I don’t usually act like this.’ But that just doesn’t hold water. No matter how often it does or doesn’t happen, failing to act accountably can damage your reputation, your relationships, your career opportunities and more.”
Here are Miller and Bedford's "accountability killers":
Showing up late. Everybody gets a pass on this one from time to time when life’s curveballs happen, but if it happens again and again, you’ve got a problem.
“If tardiness is a habit – if others expect it from you rather than being surprised by it – you’re not being accountable,” says Miller. “In effect, what you’re saying is, ‘I don’t value your time.’”
Saying you’ll do it but not doing it. If you fail to meet your commitments more than once or twice, you lack accountability.
“If you find yourself constantly making excuses, asking for more time, or expecting others to understand why you [didn’t get around to it], it’s time to make a change,” comments Bedford. “Either start pushing yourself harder or stop making promises you can’t keep.”
Being offended by the truth. Miller says that denying or adopting a bad attitude about what obviously is true will cause your credibility to take a significant hit.
Covering up mistakes. The fact that others don’t know about a slip-up doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and you run the risk of setting a bad precedent for yourself of thinking you can get away with certain behavior.
“Do this sort of thing enough times and the tendency to cover up becomes a habit,” says Bedford.
Blaming others. The so-called “blame game” is one in which nobody wins. “Always own up to your mistakes,” Miller instructs. “You’ll build an overall reputation for integrity when you ‘fess up’ to your mistakes.”
Asking others to cover for you. Asking someone to deflect blame, conflict or questions from you is never acceptable.
Doing the bare minimum. Is your M.O. to do just enough to get by and then hope no one calls you on it? Do you ever withhold information or shoot down ideas that could make a project better because it will require you to do more work? If so, you’re preventing yourself from doing your best and people will notice that you’re lazy.
Not offering an explanation for bad behavior or trying to justify it with a bad one. There are a lot of adult versions of “The dog ate my homework,” and our peers can see through them.
Ignoring others’ bad behavior. “Here’s a reality check,” says Bedford. “Ignoring someone else’s bad behavior is just as bad as committing the act yourself. Don’t be guilty by association. Speak up and show that you value fairness and respect.”
Communicating in an immature manner. Gossiping at the water cooler. Making faces behind the boss’s back. Adults confront problems head-on; doing anything less eats away at your accountability.
Failing to take or give feedback. When you can’t or won’t take feedback, you communicate to others that you aren’t interested in improving your performance.
“If you sit back and hope that someone else talks to the team member who’s bringing the whole project down, for instance, you’ve forfeited your right to complain when the finished product fails to meet expectations,” says Bedford. “The same thing goes for complaining about a decision after failing to offer your thoughts and insights while it was being made.”
Expecting an “A” for effort. Accountability isn’t about following orders, it’s about meeting expectations. If you ever find yourself using the “I did what you said!” excuse, know that you’re killing your accountability.
Forcing others to remind you to act. “Whenever you force someone else to remind you of an obligation you’re fully aware of, you’re springing a leak in your accountability account,” Bedford explains.
Being a victim instead of a solution finder. “If you didn’t grumble, gripe and complain sometimes, you wouldn’t be human,” admits Miller. “But after you’ve vented your feelings, do what you can to find a solution and move forward.”
Having a “me-first” attitude. “Having a ‘me-first’ attitude, especially when it means hurting or willfully inconveniencing someone else, hurts your accountability, because you’re showing yourself to be inconsiderate, selfish and maybe even dishonest,” says Bedford.
“If you want to build genuine, lasting success in any aspect of your life, you need to be someone whom others can trust,” concludes Miller. “Anytime you give another person a reason to question your honesty, your dependability, your intentions or your values, you’ll incur consequences.”