When your team loses, it's easy to place blame.  The opposing team was taller, bigger, stronger, more experienced.  Their coaching staff had a better track record.  They had the top draft choice.  The officials made too many bad calls.  They had the hometown advantage.  Your star player suffered an injury and left the game in the first quarter.

If those explanations aren't accepted, you can start on your own teammates.  They didn't get open under the basket.  They didn't rebound.  They took too many low-percentage shots.  The zone defense wasn't working.  The guards fouled too often.

But when you're standing at the free-throw line all alone – no defenders blocking your view, no ticking clock to add pressure – and you miss the basket, you're fully acceptable.  There's no one else to blame.

Playing your position at work means being accountable for what happens and accepting responsibility for results -- with now one else to blame.  Individual accountability has been a struggle for us ever since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden:  "Who me?" Adam might have said.  "I'm not responsible for keeping records about which trees are off limits.  It was the woman, Eve, you gave me – she's the one who told me to eat the forbidden fruit.  She sent up the paperwork, I just signed off on it.  I don't have time to read everything that crosses my desk."

Then Eve took her turn, hedging:  "Who me?  I wasn't the final decision maker on this deal.  Besides, we had a temp in the Garden that day.  He was a real snake."

But the Bible clears up the accountability issue rather pointedly:  "Each of us will have to give a personal account to God."1

Again, in the Gospels, the Parable of the Talents sets forth the idea that responsible people are accountable for what they've been given in life.2  The master divides the talents among his servants according to their abilities and tells them to invest the money and manage it until he returns.  The talents represent any resources someone receives – talents, skills, money, time, gifts, or wisdom.  Two servants invest the money and are rewarded for their faithfulness.  One does not, fearing to be accountable for results.  The master returns and expresses great displeasure at this last servant, who refused to accept responsibility.

Many people in the workplace are like the third worker in this parable, burying their talent in the ground and refusing to  play their position.  They blame everybody and everything when things aren't going right on the job.  Like a basketball player, they are standing at the free-throw line, shooting at the basket, missing right and left, and blaming someone else.

Reasoning Gone Awry

When employees reject responsibility, they reason backward.  Their comments sound like these: 

  • I don't have $20,000 in my budget.  Therefore, I can't schedule training for my staff.  So there's no way we're going to be a quality team.
  • I don't have a mentor.  Therefore, I can't get good feedback on my performance.  So I'll never be a great salesperson. 
  • I don't have talented people working for me.  Therefore, we aren't going to finish our projects on time, within budget, to the quality standards specified in the contract.  So I'll never become a leader with opportunities to influence my division in ethical matters.

These people have abdicated accountability in their lives.  Notice that someone has "taken" something from them.  Therefore, they can't "do" something, which limits their ability to "be" someone.  A responsible person would flip all the previous situations and comments and reason as follows: