30 Jun

The Harsh Truth about Accountability

Stephen Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, highlights trust as a critical element of success in business. According to Covey, trust saves both time and money. One trust building behavior Covey identifies is “Practice Accountability.”

But, what does accountability really mean and why should you care?

According to Webster, accountability is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” Obligation implies that something is being imposed upon you. On the other hand, willingness indicates acceptance with little or no coercion.

Most people don’t have a problem owning up to good results, but it’s equally as important to take responsibility for the bad ones. Being accountable demonstrates that you (as an organization or individual) are able to lead yourself. Leading oneself is a key trait that must be mastered before you can be trusted to lead others.

What are the benefits of owning up to failures?

  1. It saves face. Acknowledge your mistakes and prevent them from happening again by implementing corrective measures. Being accountable helps protect your reputation as a trusted partner.
  2. It encourages risk-taking and innovation. Edwin Land, scientist and inventor said, “An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” Risk-taking and innovation thrive in environments where people are not afraid to fail. Employees must know they can take responsibility for mistakes they make when trying to make things better for the company and their customers. Taking responsibility for negative results fosters an environment of open discussion that may lead to further innovation.
  3. It reinforces ethical behavior. In the workplace, breaches in ethics can have costly and, sometimes, irreversible consequences. Being accountable means facing the consequences of your actions, even when they may be severe. When ethical behavior is modeled, people notice and are more likely to follow suit.
  4. It offers an advantage. When individuals acknowledge mistakes, it provides a window of opportunity to avert a crisis. You may be able to save time and money by getting on top of things right away. Also, see #1.
  5. It provides valuable learning opportunities. Failure is a key element in learning. There is no better way to mentor or model than in a real-life scenario. Difficult situations provide opportunities to sharpen leadership skills such as critical thinking, communication, integrity, team building, creativity, and more. Accountability can lead to valuable experience and lessons learned. So be open to learning from your mistakes.

So, what’s the harsh truth about accountability?

The workplace is bursting with policies, guidelines, and deadlines. But, the truth is you are responsible for making yourself accountable. No one is perfect; the expectation is that you act with integrity, hold yourself accountable, and fix your mistakes.

But, wait! That’s not all. Accountability, integrity, and ethics go hand in hand. Put simply – it’s the right thing to do!


Izla Hearn has 12+ years’ experience analyzing processes and developing practical solutions within commercial and federal organizations. Skilled in service management, business process re-engineering, project management, and human capital, she is a certified ITIL® Expert, Strategic Workforce Planner, SCRUM Master, Process Design Engineer, and Project Management Professional (PMP).

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