Your Signature Work: Play Your Position
- Tuesday, August 24, 2004
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:
- We plan to be a quality team. Therefore, I need to schedule a training class for my staff. I need to find a way to generate, save, or negotiate for $20,000 in my budget.
- I want to be a great salesperson. Therefore, I'll need to find a coach so I can get good feedback on my performance.
- I want to become a leader with opportunities to influence my division in ethical matters. Therefore, I'll have to earn respect from others with a team that finishes projects on time, within budget, and meets quality standards. So I'm going to need to recruit, hire, train and retain talented people to work for me.
Accountability is about holding the ball in your hands, looking at the positions of your teammates, glancing at the game clock, and deciding for yourself whether to pass, dribble or shoot. It takes courage to call your own plays.
Those who shrink from responsibilities keep on shrinking in other ways too.
A director of operations talks about one of the highlights of his twenty-five year career: "We needed to buy or lease a new facility for an acquisition we were about to make. It was bleeding about $3 to 4 million a month, and we needed to get the expenses under control. So that was in my realm of responsibility. My team studied the problem, and then I went to the president and said, 'I can fix the problem in about four months if you'll give us the money.'
"The president asked, 'How much?'"
"You got it," he said, "but you better deliver.'"
"And we did. We looked like heroes. We took full accountability for our plan. We told him we'd use our experience from previous acquisitions to hire consultants and make all the related decisions. Sure enough, we stopped the financial blood flow in four months. This division is now our most profitable. But he would never have let us have the money if we had not accepted full responsibility for the results."
In the current work culture with teams driving almost every initiative, it's difficult to find an individual or department who accepts full responsibility for a situation. Rather, it's far too easy to shrug your shoulders and pass the ball of blame to the next team or individual on the list.
In recent years individuals have attempted to take responsibility for their personal development – character traits, attitude, and career development – with performance tools and peer feedback systems. Some have been successful in making significant changes in their personality and performance, based on how others perceive them. Others have shrugged off peers' perceptions as unwarranted and plunged ahead, persisting in old habits.
Accountability can be tough or rewarding, depending on your purpose and ego strength.
Articles of Accountability
You may want to consider adopting the following Articles of Accountability as a way to paint a key on the court at your workplace and force yourself to stand behind the free-throw line on occasion, just as other people have to do.
Expect As Much from Yourself As You Do from Those above You
People in positions of authority are human beings struggling with the same weaknesses, worries, and warts that we all have. Why hold them to some super standard that you yourself do not model and criticize them for infractions that you would not want to be criticized for? They fail just like everyone else. Continually complaining about what the "powers that be" or politicians or the government should do is pointless.
The thing I like about baseball is that it's one on one. You stand up there alone, and if you make a mistake, it's your mistake. If you hit a home run, it's your home run.
– HANK AARON
Commit to the Success of Your Organization
Why should your organization have to earn your loyalty? Did your parents have to earn your love? Did your school have to earn your respect? Does your favorite charity have to win your favor every year for a donation? Does your country have to earn your devotion? You commit to some organizations, causes, and purposes just because you believe in them – their services, their products, their customers, their mission.
Motivate and Mentor Yourself
You hear it often, in tones of either dejection or astonishment: "My company doesn't even offer a mentoring program." Or, "This company doesn't even offer a mentoring program." Or, "This company doesn't even have a tuition-reimbursement plan." Being accountable means accepting responsibility for your own morale, motivation, and mobility. Identify what you don't know. Find out who can teach it to you. Ask others to let you observe and learn from them. Plan your educational road map, and be willing to pick up the tab. After all, you'll be reaping the benefits for the rest of your life.
Become Financially Savvy
Understand how a business works and how your own organization makes money. What are its expenses, and what generates its profits? How do you and your job alter the picture? Move around the organization and learn the same thing about every department in the organization – do the people there cost money or make money for the team? How?
Focus on Your Own Deliverables and Forget about Others' To-Do Lists
Build your own integrity by delivering on your promises. Do what you say you will. Then stop grousing about others who don't meet deadlines or pull their own weight. They must live with the consequences of their lost clarity, diminished credibility, and damaged relationships.
Accept the Fact that Some Predicaments Don't Have Perfect Solutions
Instead of striving for perfection, settle for progress. Progress happens on our watch – if only because it transforms and teaches us how to cope in an imperfect situation.
Vow to Do Your Best with What You Have
Anyone can succeed with the right people, ample resources, appropriate support, and adequate time. Remove one of the legs from the stool, and you have a challenge worthy of your best talents. Measure your results by how well you accept and meet the challenge before you.
Live with Uncertainty
Stop expecting your leaders – organizational leaders, national leaders, world leaders – to read a crystal ball. Plan for tomorrow, but work within the parameters of today.
Signature Stars play their positions by being fully accountable for what happens on their watch and by assuming responsibility for results. Playing the blame game does not interest them. They prefer to take on the challenge of unpredictable situations under less-than-desirable circumstances and work to deliver dynamic results.
What have you not yet accepted full accountability for in your imperfect world?
No individual raindrop ever considers itself responsible for the flood.
*As a Signature Star, Your Autograph Says You … Accept responsibility for results.
Excerpted from "Your Signature Work: Pursuing God's Best at Work." Copyright 2004 by Dianna Booher. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
Dianna Booher is an internationally recognized business communication expert and the author of 42 books and numerous videos, audios, and Web-based e-learning products for improving communication and productivity. She holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Houston. Dianna and her husband, Vernon, have two grown, married children. They live in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
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