It is common thought that accountability is about keeping commitments. There is nothing so frustrating as when someone has made a commitment to us -- to communicate with us, to complete a task we asked them to complete, to assist us with something we're having difficulty with -- and then fails to follow through. It can be hurtful or frustrating, and our typical response is "You aren't being accountable."
It can be even more frustrating when we don't keep our own commitments -- to things like our diets, keeping ourselves organized or to staying in touch with our friends. We feel we are letting ourselves down and may label ourselves as "not very accountable."
Regardless of which side of the broken agreement or commitment we may find ourselves, thinking that a broken agreement is necessarily an example of a lack of accountability may be a misdiagnosis. It might surprise you to learn that being accountable does not have to mean keeping all of your commitments. Why? Because accountability is more about being counted on to achieve desired results than accomplishing lots of meaningless activities. How many times have you seen someone looking busy doing lots of things they've committed to, but failing to achieve quality results, or satisfaction of their target audience (spouse, boss or customer)?
Accountability is not just keeping commitments. Accountability is taking action consistent with your desired outcome. It begins with defining the kind of results you want to achieve in your life at home and at work. What kind of partner do you want to be in your relationships? What is the optimal health that you want to experience? What kind of reputation do you want to have at work with your teammates, your boss and/or your direct reports? Being accountable is taking actions consistent with those desired outcomes. It is not making and keeping commitments that take you away from your purpose.
Based on those desired outcomes, it is essential to only make commitments that support your "picture of success" rather than accepting every commitment put before you in order to accommodate others... Sometimes, you may even make a commitment that you have to break or change in order to get back to creating your desired outcomes.
For instance, I made a commitment one day to go out with my co-workers after work the following Friday. However, after getting on the scale on Wednesday, I decided it was important for me to get back on my eating plan immediately to lose weight and get my cravings under control. I had to break my commitment with my friends for a higher purpose of getting myself back on track with my health. Now, you might wonder, why didn't I just go out with my co-workers and eat healthy foods and drink water? Because, at that stage of getting healthy, I was still having difficulty curbing my cravings, and I didn't want to risk breaking a commitment to my higher purpose. I also wanted to support myself by not putting myself in a risky position in order to accommodate others.
The problem with keeping commitments that support others at the expense of supporting ourselves is that we feel like we have undermined our own value by breaking a bigger and more meaningful commitment to our own personal success.
Six Steps for Increasing Accountability and Keeping Commitments
- Identify your "picture of success" and desired outcomes for various aspects of your life -- relationships with yourself, family and friends; your performance and communication at work; your contribution to your community or your personal/spiritual growth, hobbies and health.
- Develop the very few commitments you are willing to make to support yourself in achieving your "picture of success" or desired outcomes. These are your "non-negotiable" commitments.
- Create "recovery plans," or your best responses which you will use if you find yourself in jeopardy of breaking one of these commitments or agreements. Recovery plans represent how you will communicate with others and yourself if you can't keep a commitment as is, so that the commitment can be amended or changed without breaking integrity with yourself.
- Assess any new commitments that others ask you to make in order to stay consistent with your "picture of success" and have the courage to say "no" to a new commitment that breaks your accountability to your higher purpose or your values.
- If you can't make a commitment to support or accommodate another person, assist them in finding a new solution or re-evaluating their request so that they can achieve or make progress on their "picture of success."
- Acknowledge yourself for every commitment you keep that reinforces your "picture of success," and acknowledge yourself for every commitment you break or don't agree to because it will take you away from acting consistent with your purpose or values.
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