Accountability: Say It, Do It!

The point of this missive is not to pick on a nice guy, but to show how easy it is to say, “I believe in accountability!”—and then not practice it.

A month ago we had a gent named Kyle, representing a large landscaping firm, come to our house to talk about a major project. Kyle is the general manager of the company and its many employees. This is no “mom and pop” shop.

As this likeable fella and I chatted—and connected—he asked what I do for a living. I told him I’m an author of books about personal accountability. His immediate response was, “Well, that’s the way I raise my kids. It’s all about being responsible, ‘ya know!” I said, “Really? That’s terrific. Good for you. It’s the only way to live.”

Fast forward one month.

His crew was supposed to arrive and get to work yesterday morning at 8 AM. In response to my email around 10 AM, he said it would now be 1 PM. At 5:00 PM nobody had shown up and when I emailed Kyle, this smart-phone-to-smart-phone dialogue took place:

Kyle the Supplier:  “In a mtg. Be there in the morning.”

John the Customer: “But what happened to today???”

Kyle the Supplier: “The day got away from us; finishing up on another project.”

John the Customer: “A phone call to let me know would’ve been nice.”

Kyle the Supplier: “Been in the mtg all afternoon with my cell turned off.”

While the customer with cash in hand waited the entire day …

Excuse-making, it’s one of the easiest things to do. Excuses are like pounds of fat on the body: They creep into our life. Until one day, when we look in the mirror hard with the keen eye of self-awareness and see them.

And the affect they have on our lives.

People who truly understand and practice personal accountability are extremely aware of the excuses that can slip easily from ones mouth. Accountable people are vigilant and diligent about not making any. In fact, they consistently avoid excuses by developing the emotionally mature reflex action—let’s call it a “habit”—of saying, “I’m sorry. I could’ve done better” or some pithy variation of that statement.

And now, as I reread this post, the words, “There but for the grace of God go I” come to mind.

Excuses. Have I made any lately?




13 Responses

  1. So true, John, and well put, as usual. Thank you!
    Another element of the ability to attain personal accountability may also be rooted in our personal feeling of self worth. Do we live our lives trying to please others, and thereby feeling that we must have an excuse for our shortcomings? Or can we rest in the assurance that we are acceptable as we are, failures and all, and then endeavor to live a life worthy of that acceptance? It’s rather counterintuitive, but also quite liberating once grasped.
    Personally, I’m still working on it.

  2. So what happened next?

    I’m assuming this major project had a contract associated with it, making it a bit difficult to just cancel the job and take your business elsewhere.

  3. Ouch, just reading that exchange hurts. Treating a customer with a lack of respect and passing on responsibility is no way to run a business. I can’t see them keeping many customers this way.

  4. It’s so easy to ‘do as I say, not as I do’, and then make excuses about it. It becomes a habit that is hard to see as it is, let alone break. This is a great reminder not only from a business perspective, but a personal one as well.

  5. as others have stated its easy to get lost in our words and excuses. As an avid reader of the self-help books (mostly yours) and studies you publish I find thats my struggle to know the right things to say to my staff, my family, my caregroup etc. Sometimes it doesn’t come out properly because I am not practicing and excercising that ‘accountability’ muscle enough. Like everything, the more that I practice/excercise, the more that I get stronger in responding/acting.

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone! What happened next is I CHOSE to stay with them as I need the work done and they’re good at what they do. They did arrive the next day. But now I am a bit wary and ready for the next excuse when something goes awry!

  7. Hi John, great post. I really enjoy and learn from your posts although this is my first time to comment. This post is a very good reminder to me to be more aware of my own words and responses. You gave one example of a better response. Could you or others give more examples of better, more QBQ responses to your initial query?

  8. Larry, anything that has a contrite apology and maybe simply an “I blew it!” in it! We all know stuff happens and the right thing to have done would’ve been to keep me updated by phone or email.

  9. I’ve started my journey towards personal accountability. I’m new to this and I’ve run into a roadblock:

    I have a difficult time overcoming my pride when someone else messes up in my organization and I am associated/blamed for the mistake. Any encouraging guidance? advice? tips to fight the urge to dissociate???

    I greatly appreciate your blog John.

  10. It’s too bad that that there was such lack of personal accountablity but I commend you for staying with the company. My husband owns his own business and I cant see him doing such a thing. Hopefully some day this gentleman will have the opportunity to read your books. I truly enjoy them and have my husband lined up to read them next!

  11. Alex, that’s tough. Totally. Only you know your culture and whether you need to clarify with a boss what you did and didn’t do. Living QBQ! does not require us to be a door mat.

    And Jessica, that’s sorta the key to this story: Kyle is a good man … thus it proves how easy it is for ANY of us to let excuses seep past out lips.

    Thanks to all!

  12. John,
    Great story – unfortunately a common one.
    If you run your own business like you and I do, you know that every customer is important.
    Sharing with you that he was in a meeting and couldn’t call – conveys that meetings trump customers. A very dangerous place to be.
    A simple reply such as, you are right I should’ve called, I have a break at 2pm, can we speak then? Would have done wonders and demonstrated accountability .
    There are 4 other words that have worked wonders in my life/career: Do you forgive me?. These words surprise colleagues and customers.
    It usually sounds like this, “Do you forgive me for XXXXX. What I should have done was XXXXX. Then silence. Their response is often the balm needed to repair my bad. As long as we are learning from our mistakes we are one step closer to being more accountable and living a QBQ life.

  13. That first comment from Doug was an epiphany. I had not considered the role acceptance of ones self would play in living the QBQ way.

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