Being accountable for one’s actions is indisputably a good thing. But what about your boss’ inability to properly communicate, or a flat tire? Are you responsible for the ramifications of your own bad luck?
Local readers may think my headline is in response to the painfully prolonged winter Chicago is experiencing, well into meteorological spring. Actually, this piece comes from two books I happened to read in succession that have two different answers to the accountability question.
In Success Under Stress (which I reviewed a few weeks back), Sharon Melnick argues that holding yourself accountable for things that are out of your control is just going to stress you out and make you less productive:
Every challenge can be divided into two categories—the 50 percent of factors we can control and the 50 percent we can’t. Factors we can’t control include macrolevel forces, such as market trends, technology developments, senior leadership decisions, reorganizations, traffic… Additionally, there are a myriad of microlevel forces we can’t control, such as someone else’s tone of voice or what they write in an e-mail.
Things that are out of your control attract your attention like a magnet attracts metal. However, by focusing on factors outside of your control, you’re setting yourself up for stress.
In Where Winners Live, a new book by Dave Porter and Linda Galliano, the authors argue that if you “adopt a mindset of 100 percent accountability,” then “chances are good that it will work out in your favor.” They compare the days of Vince (who is 100 percent accountable) to that of Katherine (who only accepts accountability for 85 percent):
Occasionally, Katherine reasons, circumstances beyond her control cause her bad results. Take the weather, traffic, the occasional flat tire, or a restless night that left her without enough energy for her day…
Back to Vince. It rains on his way to work as often as it does during Katherine’s commute. But he leaves his house so early in the morning that he has plenty of leeway to deal with weather-delayed slow traffic and still arrives at work on time. He experiences few flat tires and car troubles because he knows a few minutes of preventive maintenance now will save him from losing up to an hour later… He plows through the days when he feels sluggish or has the sniffles, because he knows each day will end at 6pm and he needs to finish his work by then.
Honestly, both of the explanations above make sense to me, in a way. Responsible adults just take responsibility, even when influencing factors are out of their control. Yet, doesn’t it also cause unnecessary stress when we have to take on a burden that isn’t truly ours? And what about when an unfortunate outcome really does belong at the feet of another colleague—if we take responsibility for 100 percent, isn’t that letting some slacker off the hook?
What’s your philosophy? Are you 100 percent accountable all the time, or do you ensure that your half of the situation is 100 percent perfect?