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How To Tap Into Accountability In Leadership

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Jun. 10 2022, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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During this time of unprecedented uncertainty, the value of critical thinking has taken center stage. Leaders who zeroed in on what’s important have flourished, while those beholden to red herrings and crowd-sourced decision-making have paid the price.

Scapegoating and blame-shifting are popular tools for explaining away failure, especially when confronted by critics uncomfortable with complex answers.

No (wo)man is an island: The ability to produce and problem solve in a group context is a necessary skill for securing the best life has to offer.

That holds true whether you’re part of a work committee, planning an event with friends, or organizing your annual softball team.

Let’s take a look at personal accountability as it relates to group performance:

I’ll use myself as an example here.

I play a few team sports. After every game — -win or lose — -I examine what went right and what went wrong. Too many of us are quick to gloss over mistakes after wins, forgetting that the process and execution of play is more important than any single game outcome.

If you want to win consistently, you’ll have to adopt a higher standard.

Proverbs 15:22:

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

My post-game analysis is two-fold:

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1. What errors did I make?

First-hand blunders for which I was the proximate cause.

This encompasses both mistakes in strategy at any given point in time as well as mechanical errors in performance. If we’re talking football, that may be running a lazy route during a key play or dropping a pass because I took my eyes off the ball too soon.

Then, I’ll dig even deeper, searching for reasons why those slips occurred in the first place:

“Was my route-running sloppy because I got tired? Might need to up my conditioning work.”

I don’t have a problem with yelling at teammates in the heat of the moment. There’s nothing wrong with caring deeply about something you’re invested in.

You’ve just got to be careful about how you express dismay with those around you.

The quick, emotional reward of screaming in another’s direction may not be worth the lingering resentment and damage to relationships.

I’ve had to rein myself in on this over the years, measuring my conduct against the values I hold dear and the mental well-being of those around me. Get too angry or harp on imperfection too often and everyone gets anxious, overly fearful of making a mistake. The enjoyment is sucked out of the game and the preoccupation with avoiding further ridicule leads to tense play that produces more mistakes.

You build yourself a self-replenishing pool of frustration.

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Death and life are in the power of the tongue. You might forget a throwaway barb five minutes later, but it could linger in the mind of the recipient for years to come.

That said, my vocal criticism of teammates is reserved for on-the-spot errors; it almost never finds its way into post-game discussions. Removed from the heat of competition, I’m studying the game much more holistically. If pushed on who screwed up what, I’m providing no-frills answers to what particular individuals can do to shore up weaknesses going forward. I’m loath to bang on teammates before calling out my own mistakes.

And that’s because I ask myself……

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2. What errors could I have prevented?

Both mine and those committed by others.

Most people miss this one. It’s not intuitive.

It requires real introspection and an understanding of all of the pieces in play.

If you spot mismatches in team assignments or strategy, and do nothing to address it, you are contributing to the failure of your team. If you see a teammate is ill-equipped to handle a responsibility, or Groupthink is steering your squad away from the best play, speak up and initiate change.

Otherwise, you’re just as guilty as the offender when the critical error happens.

You know what happens when decent people do nothing.

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You’ve got to decide how important winning is to you. Weigh the long-term risk of fracturing team chemistry with the here-and-now threat of losing the current skirmish. This can be particularly-tough when dealing with one-off competitions like a playoff game or pitching a potential client.

I’ve dealt with the regret of words not said on a number of occasions, mostly because I’ve wanted to spare feelings and avoid arousing conflict. Egos are preserved, but team performance suffers. I end up gritting my teeth through an inevitable loss.

Healthy disagreement, as a by-product of open dialogue, is nothing to fear. Don’t hesitate to offer reasoned criticism. A team afraid to be honest with each other is a team primed for easy defeat.

The greatest contribution you can bring to your team is ensuring they get the best version of you. Put in the work beforehand and make sure the collective doesn’t have to carry your weight.

Beyond that, how you manage the personalities and perspectives around you will dictate your experience.

“The refs cost us the game.”

“Bill dropped that pass on fourth down; it’s his fault we lost.”

If your first instinct is to hunt for someone to blame after failures, you’re stunting your growth as a performer and a leader. (Big) winners understand the value of even-handed honesty.

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People are imperfect and there exists not an environment free from mistakes. Official errors cut both ways: Loss aversion renders mistakes in our favor much easier to forget.

Rarely does a single error cost you a game. The final play late in the fourth quarter is much more memorable, but the failed attempt early in the first quarter weighs just the same.

Like life, every game is a series of decisions and events. Our futures are a function of our present and past. open to change at any given moment.

If you tamp down on the mistakes on your end — -raising your efficiency and productivity when your number is called — -you’ll have a lot more latitude to accommodate inevitable errors. Dedicated practice helps there.

When you adopt a mindset of 100% accountability, you’re no longer some damsel in distress, awaiting assistance from saviors who may never arrive. You embrace your agency and construct your own present and future, not beholden to outside forces who may hold priorities in conflict with your own.

This article was written by Kene Erike and originally appeared on Women 2.0.

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