“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” ― Moliere
This quote resonated with me, particularly in terms of social issues such as the climate crisis and racism. How much personal accountability do I take for these issues? Although many of us are sensitive to these (and other) social issues, is this matched by a willingness to take personal responsibility for it and to actually do something about it?
Accountability refers to an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. When a person accepts responsibility, that person is committed to generating positive results, what some would call “taking ownership.” In fact, accountability can be thought of as an unexpected, but powerful, tool for motivation. I would go so far as to say that accountability is a prerequisite for change.
There is an amusing story (author unknown) illustrating how a lack of accountability leads to, well….a complete lack of progress. It is a story about four people called Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody:
“There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”
When we are personally accountable, we take ownership of what happens as a result of our choices, behaviours and actions. We don’t blame other or make excuses and we do what we can to make amends when things so go wrong. Every individual is socially, morally and legally accountable to the community or organisation to which they belong.
Oftentimes, responsibility and accountability are considered synonymous and used interchangeably, despite their very distinct meanings. Responsibility refers to someone’s duty to carry out a task to completion, while accountability is generally concerned with the consequences of someone’s actions, that is, what happens after something has happened.
Benefits of personal accountability
Taking ownership of your actions, choices and behaviours leads to building healthier relationships with friends, colleagues and family.
Accountability fosters more positive social interactions. A 2005 study found that children who were encouraged to take personal responsibility for their actions also had more positive social interactions. .
Personal accountability also fosters problem-solving skills and generates respect from others that you keep your word.
How to develop personal accountability
Taking accountability takes courage and is most certainly a skill that can be developed. The more you are able to exhibit the following behaviours, the easier it will be to become more accountable for your actions, choices and behaviours, and the consequences thereof.
• Be Honest with Everyone (including Yourself)
• Don’t be Afraid to Apologise
• Know Your Limits
• Be Open to Change
Sharpe, T & Balderson, D. (2005) The Effects of Personal Accountability and Personal Responsibility Instruction on Selected Off-Task and Positive Social Behaviors, Journal of Teaching in Physical Education 24:1, 66-87.