The Audacity of Accountability

The Audacity of Accountability - Brass Tack ThinkingYou know what separates change-makers from those who are constantly under the thumb of other people’s decisions and direction?

The willingness to own it.

The core of my work is in organizational development and change, and here’s what I’ll tell you about people who rise above the crowd and make incredible differences around them through their work.

  • They never use the “management mandate” as an excuse not to do something. Instead, they use it as a starting point for a discussion to make it happen.
  • They never think that they are powerless to create change, even if it’s small and close to them, and even if there’s resistance.
  • They have the audacity to believe that their contribution matters no matter how granular it is.
  • They know that progress is often incremental, difficult, and requires personal accountability.
  • They know that risk is part of revolution. If you want it done differently, you have to put your neck on the line to help make it happen.
  • They know that they have two choices: work to help change things, or wait to have the change (or lack thereof) happen to them. And they don’t want the latter.

Everyone has a boss. Even most CEOs have the Board or investors to answer to. If everyone across the organization claims that they’re powerless or unable to change something because of the mandates above them or the lack of competence below them, nothing will ever happen. Indeed in some organizations, that’s exactly the problem. Stagnation happens when you have no one in your midst that’s willing to put their own credibility, reputation and even their job on the line to do something differently and ask tough questions.

You either play by the rules, you work to get the rules changed, or you find a new game to play entirely (including creating your own).

Our own situations are of our own creation and choices. Blame is not becoming and it’s definitely not useful. It’s a tough truth, but I’m speaking from experience both inside the organization and as the person that helps organizations figure out how to break the pattern and transform their companies.

There’s no question that change is hard. There’s no question that it takes work and time and sometimes three steps backwards for every step forward. There’s no question that it can feel really frustrating to be in a role where you feel like you’re trapped.

But you aren’t trapped. We either create our situations through our actions, or we fail to change them through our surrender. Either way, it’s a choice.

I’ve been in the job I hated. I’ve felt like I didn’t have a choice because I had a child and a mortgage and bills to pay. I saw nothing but obstacles around me, and I blamed a lot of other people for my circumstances for a while.

Then when I found that untenable, I quit. I chose to take the risk, to change things, and I was accountable for the outcome of that. If I had chosen to stay, I would have been accountable for that choice, too. Instead, I reshaped my career almost entirely, and make tangible differences now for the companies I work with.

Please don’t tell me you can’t change your circumstances, your department, your organization. You can, if you want it badly enough and if you’re willing to make the tradeoffs and do the work that comes with it. We each have power to affect our current state, and our future one. When we don’t, it’s more about what we’re willing to do, and much less about what we’re able to do.

Today more than ever, claiming powerlessness doesn’t fly. Excuses suck. There are people changing entire roles, departments, organizations. There are people starting companies because they couldn’t find one they wanted to work for. There are people changing careers, changing their lives, changing the perspectives of the people around them and earning the permission to do something new and different in even the most notoriously complex industries. Hell, people are reinventing industries right out from under the old models, and creating markets we’ve never seen.

“But I can’t because…” is a club you choose to belong to.

And you’re the only one that can choose to get yourself out.

  • Jim Mitchem

    When I went into Air Force basic training, the only advice I received was a by a guy who had gone through a few years before. He said, “Don’t make any excuses.” So for 6 weeks, I didn’t. And there were plenty of opportunities. Even when I was cornered by a drill sergeant for something I did wrong, and he asked (screamed), “Why did this happen, Airman?” My answer was, “No excuse, sir.” And he walked away. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t take accountability for my stuff. However, avoiding accountability and making excuses is a real thing. I just have a hard time understanding it, much less tolerating it.

  • Yukari Peerless

    I hate excuses, yet I know for a fact I’m guilty as the next guy on blaming others. Thanks for writing this. From now on, I take full responsibilities of my actions and circumstances that come with them. *raising hand* :)

  • kaydavid

    As usual, you didn’t dance around the subject.Thanks for the kick in the butt this morning. Not what I really wanted to read, but what I really needed to read. Now I just need to act accordingly.

  • Sam Parrotto

    I shared this on Expedition Self today – I do so love your writing – and powerlessness is such a rampant habit with people… accountability certainly translates to believing in our own power to make something happen… unfortunately, when power outages occur – as they do for me – everyone gets let down.. thanks Amber

  • Brandi Taylor

    Great reminder! I’m so thankful to have a community of change-makers. Others may not understand why you’re doing things outside of the norm, but stay the course and just keep moving.