Why are we failing to taking accountability?

\"green-card-\"I have a confession to make…… last Saturday, whilst playing Hockey for Cheetham Hill against Keswick, I was green carded and removed from the field of play for 5 minutes.   This was a first in my illustrious (a word only I would use) hockey career and was a bit of a shock to be trudging off to the side-line to watch helplessly as my teammates did battle.  The following day Sean O’Brien, the Ireland Flanker, was sitting in the stands having to watch Ireland get beaten by Argentina after he had been banned for punching one of the French team the week before.  Not often I can put myself in the same company as an International Rugby player – but both of us failed to take accountability for our actions.

Over the last few years I have been helping various clients from different sectors to shape the culture in their organisations. There has been a surprising correlation – all of these organisations have been looking to engender a greater degree of personal accountability in “the way we do things around here when no one is looking!”  The logic and reality of successful organisations, teams and individuals is clear – everyone takes absolute accountability.  This was echoed in something I heard at a recent conference presentation by Sean Fitzpatrick the ex All Black Rugby Captain – one of the hallmarks of the All Blacks is their commitment to take personal accountability, summarised with these 3 lessons for ensuring success.

  • Everyone in the team is equal
  • You display an attitude that demonstrates you want to be there
  • Take absolute accountability for your part and to be the most successful you can be

So where did I fail on Saturday? I made a clumsy challenge (not dangerous or intentional) that flattened an opposition player in the D – the result a penalty corner and a green card.  I did not take accountability in that moment for being the most successful I could be and I abdicated responsibility as a member of a team of 11 other players.  Interestingly, I started to protest my innocence with the umpire when a little voice in my head said “take accountability, shut up and get off!”  Where did Sean O’Brien fail?  Likewise, during the game of his life, he let his frustrations get the better of him\"sean-obrien-\" – in giving everything for his team he failed to be the most successful he could be by punching Pascal Pape (have you seen the size of him!!! 🙂 )  In the moment he did not take accountability for his actions, he let himself down and subsequently his team as he was powerless to help them against Argentina.  Now you may think that these are harsh examples? But the difference between success and failure in sport and business can be by fine margins.  The clients I am working with need everyone to take absolute accountability to be at their best and ensure that their colleagues are doing likewise.

Think of the waiter picking up a plate of food that is hardly touched from a table – he could have asked why they did not enjoy their meal. The admin clerk accepting forms that have been filled in wrong (again) does not push back, break the cycle and be the one to get people to change their behaviour. A functional head accepting an additional ‘priority project’ that is not on the strategic plan, failing to role model to her team and take accountability to ensure the organisation is making the right decisions! These are all equivalent examples of the O’Brien punch or the Ferguson trip! Colleagues not taking accountability to think and act in a way that will mean they and their business can be as successful as they can be!

So what gets in the way and makes it hard for us to take accountability? Amongst others I am sure……

  • It often means being unpopular, going against the flow and telling people something that they do not want to hear
  • It means putting your head above the parapet – exposing yourself outside of the accepted norms
  • It takes time – we are all busy and it is often quicker and easier not to raise an issue or take accountability, to just get on with it and move on
  • Often we know that someone else will step in – if we ignore it or it gets too bad, someone else will deal with it.

So how do we ensure that we are taking accountability and being as successful as we can be? 3 critical success factors from me.

  1. Be absolutely clear about your ‘bigger picture’ – whether that is about just work or life in general, if you are clear about where you are heading and what is important you are more likely to be taking accountability for making those aspirations a reality!
  2. You have the freedom to choose – Stephen Covey’s First Habit is for me still one of the most powerful \"martinelessons you can learn. At the same conference I heard Sean Fitzpatrick, the British Paralympian Seated Volleyball Captain and double amputee victim of the 7/7 London bombings Martine Wright was also speaking. Her life was utterly transformed – as you could imagine, but what may surprise you, is she passionately believes her life has been transformed for the good! She had 2 choices, look backwards or live on and she knew that it was only her who was responsible for her attitude and response, accepting this freedom enables you to take full accountability.
  3. Recognise and appreciate that there are always implications – when we take accountability, whatever our choices or decisions, there will be implications. You cannot please all of the people all of the time, focus on making progress, doing the right thing and staying true to your longer term aspirations!

I have yet to return to the Hockey field after that game and am looking forward to doing so this weekend – clear in the desire to take full accountability for my rambling around the pitch!


2 responses to “Why are we failing to taking accountability?”

  1. Visually disappointed avatar
    Visually disappointed

    Two things Mr Ferguson.
    1) Where’s the picture of you in your hockey gear wielding your stick? Visuals a must
    2) What is it within us that stops us from doing the things you mention above? If I’m a ‘glass half empty’ person, how do I become a person whose glass is half full? Martine Wright is an inspiration but she’s not me. I’ve read about Viktor Frankl’s experiences and observations in Auschwitz, but I’m not him. How do we find the best of ourselves without some life changing situation booting us up the backside? How do I make the ‘ordinary’ me the ‘best’ me

    1. Lol – think hockey picture would be scarey!!
      To your second point – spot on!! This is the holy grail and we were discussing it on my table at the time of the Martine presentation. How do you create the same impact without the trauma – it is a tough one. I do know that there are appreciative techniques / habits that make you more open to opportunity! I write 3 things I am grateful for every night before bed – this creates a more open and appreciative mind and I do think this goes some way to creating a more optimistic outlook! Thanks for the comments.

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