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Accountability 102: Accepting Accountability Practice

According to The Cambridge Dictionary, to be accountable is to be responsible for and have to explain your actions, and accounting is a written or spoken description of something that has happened.

As a result, the world’s view of accepting accountability (or being accountable) is to:

  1. explain what you did wrong;
  2. apologize by saying, “I’m sorry;”
  3. acknowledge how much the action hurt you, as well as, others and
  4. promise never to do it again.

An alternate view is to:

  1. account for what you did or didn’t do;
  2. acknowledge what you were thinking;
  3. share the impact on you and the culture; and
  4. apply a consequence versus letting it be imposed upon you.

A way to think about this process is as a gift you give yourself….an approach to “hold yourself accountable” before judging and asking another person to be accountable.

To contrast the two perspectives, here is an example of how an individual, let’s call him John, would (world view) and could (TRCGs’ way)  accept accountability for missing his agreement.

In both cases, you could say John held himself accountable, except I dare say that in the alternate view he stayed true to his convictions, and strengthened his character. Not only that, it became unnecessary to find reasons for the delay.  Instead, he had an “accountable conversation” with the team for missing the deadlines, resigned, and replaced himself as a consequence.


Yes, and adopting this process is even more so. It will cause you to rethink your values, question your integrity, and push you to “speak the truth.”

Few human beings are compelled to hold themselves accountable, especially in organizations, for fear of being labeled, isolated, or rejected.  But many stories exist about those who did hold themselves accountable. A famous story is told about the great golfer, Bobby Jones, who while playing in the 1925 US Open, inadvertently touched his golf ball and assessed himself a one-stroke penalty even though no one saw him do it (Read more about it here).

More recent, and not-so-famous, examples are of individuals I have worked with who accepted accountability (held themselves accountable) and chose to step down from their leadership positions.

Eliza, a Supervisor at a prestigious medical center, chose to return to her Individual Contributor position, after acknowledging that she had accepted the promotion to be a team player knowing that, although she was technically capable, she needed more experience learning and practicing the “softer” skills of leadership. 

This practice is what leaders or even everyday folks wish would permeate their companies and the world cultures. Yet, it continues to be elusive. Why? Because, even though intuitively being accountable refers to self, it is mistaken and treated as an outward-facing action rather than an inward exploration of one’s own contribution to the missed outcome. After all, if I am holding myself accountable, why would I need to explain myself to another?


The first step is to account.

In other words, beginning with the word I, state the facts of what you did or did not do. I am not referring to the steps or actions taken to produce the result. Instead, as you learned in article one, act as an observer of your behaviors, as if you are watching yourself in a movie. Identify the pattern you notice in your behaviors and write it down. You practiced this step in article one and shared some of your patterns (see table below).

I hope you noticed that the urge to give a reason became irrelevant; you could hear and see the pattern of behavior; practiced a new pattern that enabled being accountable, and experienced freedom in the process.

The second step is to share what you were thinking. This is the most difficult and painful step. Because being vulnerable and “telling the truth” about what you were thinking in accepting accountability is not a cultivated human habit.  At the same time, it is the most freeing, as Brene Brown, PhD. an Author and Professor who has studied vulnerability and shame would attest to.

The third step is to include the impact on you and the culture. In John’s example, he was embarrassed and the sales forecasts were not as accurate.

The fourth and final step is to apply a consequence versus letting it be imposed upon you. This is also not a habit that is encouraged, especially in organizations. This step is replaced with disciplinary action exacted by an external entity.

If you are keen on it, take one situation you were supposed to be accountable for and give the process of accepting accountability a try.

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