At my office, accountability is not just a core value; it is a business model. Total accountability demands that we take personal responsibility for all our relationships, experiences, actions, and reactions, no matter whether or not those responsibilities fall under our job description. When things go wrong, excuses like “it wasn’t my fault” and “that’s not my job” are the words of someone who has failed to take full accountability for his or her world. I know because I used to be that person.
Many years ago, I had a partner who I trusted and admired. He had already achieved the highest levels of success, so naturally I followed his lead. Instead of checking my blind spots, I trusted his expertise and allowed him to take the lead in aspects of our business I did not fully understand. Long story short, the partnership ended badly. From the outside looking in, it would be easy for someone to say that my partner took advantage of me by profiting from my ignorance. But the reality is that you can’t be taken advantage of unless you allow it. By taking full responsibility for my ignorance, I empowered myself to make changes for the better. Instead of complaining about how poorly I was treated or wallowing in defeat, I resolved to learn everything there is to know about those murky aspects of my business, like accounting and legalese, that I had always trusted to others. I resolved to be the one with the answers, and as a result, I cultivated an expertise that is the cornerstone of my current company’s success.
Accountability is an essential ethic, not just for CEOs, but for all employees of rapidly growing businesses like mine. We can only achieve a united front when we all have each other’s backs. As projects develop and expand, the responsibilities of each team member must be capable of development and expansion as well. The only way to accomplish this level of integrity and adaptability is for each team member to assume total responsibility for the whole. When everyone is accountable for the success of the team, traditionally linear models of organization suddenly seem like a thing of the past. Instead of assembly-line production with limited roles, the best org charts function more like amoebas in which roles are living and moving, overlapping and exchanging with the structure as a whole. In this alternative, organic model, rapid growth is possible precisely because accountability provides elasticity— room to move, change, and grow. Accountability is the infrastructure of expansion.
At its roots, the word accountability is the sum of two simple concepts: account + ability. To be accountable literally means that you must always be able to account for your actions or inactions— a common practice at my firm, where ignorance is no excuse for ineptitude. On the other hand, this also suggests that when you take accountability, you become the creator of your own account. You stop waiting for someone else to write the story for you, and you stop blaming others when the story takes a dark turn. You take authorship of your life by owning your shortcomings and reimagining them as opportunities for growth and empowerment. As Gandhi so aptly puts it, you “become the change that you wish to see in the world.”