Posted: April 12, 2010 in people
Tags: , , ,


It could be argued that sometimes we aren’t accountable enough to ourselves.

Students not doing their homework, moms not  taking care of their own needs, employees not doing their assignments, many of us not living out our vision for our  lives  – it’s common.

Recently, someone told me they would do something. They didn’t do it. Asked about it, they didn’t think it was a big deal. But it was important, from two angles. We missed a good opportunity to involve people we needed to involve, and they missed the responsibility to have integrity, to do what they said they would do.

 I said something to this person later, pointing out the missed opportunity. Oddly, they weren’t at all upset by their own omission. A casual, relaxed atmosphere of excuses and minimization reigned. I said what I thought anyway, “It isn’t loving or responsible to not do what you said you would.” As a result, they completed the task and followed through nicely on something else they had agreed to do.

Nothing new here. We’ve all seen this before.  I’ve worked with people who didn’t do their job well for years. It created a mess of missed opportunities and misunderstandings. 

Why don’t people own their work? It’s complicated. Each case might have a unique root cause — insecurity, weakness of character, laziness, sabotaging inclinations due to jealousy, cultural expectations, disabling neediness, perhaps a history of not being well-parented, incompetency. Often the roots of irresponsibility rest in fear. Fear is huge, the fear of making mistakes, the fear of negative feedback, the fear that we can’t be what the job expects us to be or has changed to be.  Fear creates inertia; fear disables.

But a responsible independence that  owns our issues is such a good alternative, so empowering. Recently, I spoke with someone who has failed his family. He admitted that he has made mistakes, that he has engaged in harmfully addictive behaviors, that he hasn’t valued his wife’s feelings, that he has caused a lot of pain. It was refreshing, and as a result of his honesty, he is now changing his behaviors.

An internal mode of self-assessment and self-correction is a mark of high maturity, but it doesn’t seem to be in the defining mode of many modern adults. Too often we operate with a culture of casual excuse; we don’t do what we say we are going to do and that seems to be okay.

It’s not. It’s not loving or mature or professional to be irresponsible.  

I have a friend in the military. He says irresponsibility has become a huge problem in his branch of the service. Many people don’t do their  jobs with high quality, and they won’t own their mistakes and fix the damage done by them. When things go wrong there is often a lot of excusing and blaming others and avoiding  responsibility. Someone he worked with spent money from someone else’s account. Once caught, the person excused the behavior and didn’t pay back what was taken.

But the alternatives to self-accountability aren’t attractive. They are punishment and being brought to task.  But standing over people to make them do their jobs, micromanaging each step they take, punishing them for not coming through, babysitting them on the job – when we reach this level of dependent functioning, something needs to dramatically change. We have a core motivational problem.

At this point, leadership must reassess their approach and find positive, proactive, not negative, ways to help people become independently responsible.  Motivation to work is best inspired, as well as required. Therapy, re-educating, creating win-win solutions, retraining, creating collaborative networks, helping people get excited about using their unique skills – this is the responsibility of a leadership facing inertia and incompetency and resistance. 

But the best solution to irresponsibility is when we each become accountable to ourselves. It is when we grow up and become independent in healthy ways. We can vastly improve our little corner of life by being self-accountable. This is maturity, to come to the point where we self-assess and self-correct when needed.

Here are some things that it would be so wise and loving to people around us to take responsibility for. To be operative they must become personal, our “I” statements of responsibility:

I am responsible to do what I say I am going to do.

I am responsible not to harm others. If I do, I am responsible to fix that the best I can.

I am responsible to do what I am assigned in my job to do, to do it efficiently, creatively and with a high degree of quality.

I am responsible to love the people I work with, live with and make a family with.

 I am responsible to identify my physical, spiritual and emotional needs and to figure out how to meet these in healthy ways that don’t harm me or others.

I am responsible to speak up when something is unfair or unjust and do what I can to change it.

I am responsible for all my actions, thoughts and feelings and the consequences that flow from them.

I am responsible for my spiritual health, to hear and know and act on what is true, good and right.

I am accountable to my own values and standards. If I say I believe something, then I should act on it.

I am responsible to know and defend my boundaries. I am responsible for what I let other people do to me.

I am responsible find solutions to my own problems or live wisely with the problems I can’t solve.

I am responsible to set my goals and priorities and then to move toward them the best I can.

There are more. I’m sure we can all think of more. All we have to do is remember when we failed someone or they failed us to add to this list. We should think about these things. Then we should get busy living them.

On a recent evening I asked one of my daughters if she had done something that she had agreed to do. She had. Peace reigned between us. Self-accountability, independent responsibilty – these are very good for relationships.

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