Anyone working on a jigsaw puzzle this summer? Have you ever worked for hours and hours on a jigsaw puzzle – only to find one piece missing? The frustration of not being able to complete the masterpiece intensifies. The satisfaction and joy of seeing the complete picture evaporates. We walk away disappointed and annoyed.
Similarly, work teams are like complex jigsaw puzzles. Everyone on the team has a part to play – and the task often cannot be completed without the contribution of each person. It is frustrating to work on a team where one person is not carrying their weight. It is impossible to get to the desired outcome or to enjoy the work until that one person either corrects their ways – or moves off the team.
Personal accountability is taking responsibility for your role and your contribution to the team. It means you come to the team ready to contribute your best. You prepare. You train. You offer to help. You even go beyond the call of duty. When you fall short, you apologize and quickly correct the situation. The team can count on you. They can see how much you care. You take ownership of your piece of the puzzle.
The opposite of accountability? Blaming others. Being a victim.
You know how this sounds:
- “It was out of my control.”
- “He didn’t do his part, so I couldn’t do mine.”
- “Something else came up.”
- “I forgot.”
Every one of us has worked on a team where excuses, blame, and victimitis ruined the results. Every one of us can name a person we know who lacks personal accountability. And as leaders, we know that it is our job to hold our team members accountable. It is essential to achieving results.
But let’s shift our focus from the obvious to the less obvious question. . .
Who keeps the leader on track – to ensure that they have personal accountability?
We naturally expect accountability in others – but do we expect it of ourselves?
Often in my coaching of leaders, I suggest that they participate in a 360 survey to gain feedback from their teams. The survey is given to their supervisor, their peers, and their direct reports. The feedback is assembled anonymously so that the leader can learn from it, but not attach it to any one person.
In 30+ years of using this tool, I have yet to have a leader say, “I would love to do a 360 survey – that sounds like a great idea. I want to be held accountable for giving the team my very best.”
I find this curious. For other people, we call 360 surveys “constructive, helpful, and important feedback.” For ourselves, we call them an “anxiety provoking source of criticism.”
Perhaps we could re-frame and see feedback from our teams as part of holding ourselves personally accountable. With their feedback, we can become aware of any areas where we are not serving the people well. We can make concrete changes to better support the team. We can improve ourselves and the performance of the team. We can hold ourselves personally accountable.
You can start this process today, without a formal survey. Simply ask your team, one by one, if there is one suggestion they would make to you that would improve your leadership and help the team perform their best. And then you could ask that team member if they could hold you personally accountable by watching for improvements in this area – and drawing it to your attention when you slip back to old habits.
Have you asked your team where you need to be more personally accountable to help the team perform their best?
Check in and see if you are owning your “piece of the puzzle.”
Get more from this week’s question by downloading our companion video discussion guide series.