October 24, 2019

Own It - How to Take Accountability in Good or Bad Times

Accountability is something every company hopes you embody, and when it comes down to it, it’s a behavioral trait that I’ve found a number of people struggle with. It’s somehow easier to point fingers and blame another team when things don’t go as planned.  Often, I find people who fail to take accountability, while not intending to be malicious, are stuck in a victim mentality and struggle to understand how they’ve contributed to the less-than-optimal outcome. No more. 

Do you believe that your own success is predominantly in your own hands?  Fantastic,you are off to a great start. People who believe that their choices, actions and behaviors drive the majority of their success versus depending on outside forces which they can’t control tend to be far more successful. Conversely, if we blame the obstacles we face - whether they are personal or professional, big or small, on other people, you are likely to fail. 

Taking accountability isn’t just a mindset shift; it’s a learned skill that everyone can develop with a little practice. 


When we really take responsibility, we believe that we play an incredibly active role in the success or failure of an outcome.  Yes, that means even if you are on a team and you aren’t the assigned leader, you still believe your actions play a significant role in how things turn out.  You are committed to the result before the team even gets started. 

Ok, I get it.  But how can I put this into action?: 

It’s easy to take responsibility when things are going well, but try doing it when things  aren’t going as smoothly.  To really take responsibility is to do so in both cases.  Next time you take on a project or assignment, commit 100% to the outcome.  Not 75%. Not 90%. 100%. Own it by doing everything in your power to make it successful.  

Anything else?

Believe that you have the power and the responsibility to manage your own career and success; don’t sit around thinking anyone is going to hand you anything, or that any lack of success is at the hands of anyone other than you.   Stop obsessing about what’s happened in the past, and what could have been if only xx person had done something differently. Own your actions, and own your reactions to situations when they aren’t trending the way you’d hoped. It makes a huge difference. 


I’m not a huge fan of the term “empowerment” for the reason that it suggests someone actually grants power to you.  Empowerment is something we give to ourselves. When we do so, we take on the activities and risks en route to achieving the outcome we want. Sitting around waiting for someone to tap you on the head with a magic wand and declare, “Poof!  You are empowered!” is unrealistic. Instead, roll up your sleeves and take a step outside of your self-imposed comfort zone and start taking control and making things happen you want to see happen.  

Ok, I get it.  How can I put this into action?: 

Learn how to manage expectations.  I know plenty of people who are so hell bent on looking like they can take on the world, that they say yes to everything.  Guess what happens? They fail at achieving the goal because in their quest to look helpful, they couldn’t manage the insane amount of work they signed up for.  Next time you are about to take something on, manage expectations by asking a whole lot of questions and creating agreements about what’s truly expected, deadlines, metrics for success, etc. 

Anything else?

We have been conditioned to say “yes” to be viewed as a great team player, but “no” is just as powerful a word.  Rid your schedule and calendar of anything that isn’t necessary. Engage in work that is directly relevant. This is not suggesting you need to avoid being helpful to others, or that you shouldn’t tackle additional projects or items outside the immediate goal you are working on.  It is suggesting, however, that you should be mindful of your very valuable time. There is likely plenty of stuff getting in your way towards success that just doesn’t need to be there. Identify it, and purge it. 


Taking responsibility comes before you even get started.  Embodying your power occurs when you are smack in the middle of it.  But owning it is what happens after the fact. It’s all about how you elect to answer for the outcome based on your choices, actions, and behaviors.  When you really own it, you stop pointing fingers at others, assigning blame, and making excuses. You take the hit when things don’t go well. And you apply humility when they go well, and humbly help others to learn from the success.  

Ok, I get it.  How can I put this into action?: 

Be truthful.  We are human, and we all screw up sometimes.  Trying to cover it up or assign blame to others is just completely uncool.  Be truthful, and own your mistakes. Reality check: people know when we lie.  If you develop a reputation for pointing scrutiny away from yourself or fibbing to save yourself the embarrassment from looking like you failed, people will catch on.  That is NOT how you want people to perceive you. So even if people don’t make the connection at first, by holding yourself accountable, you’re cementing your rep as a stand up person who can be trusted and collaborated with.  In other words, hold yourself accountable even when no one is looking.  

Anything else?

Yes, one more thing, and it’s pretty important.  When things go off-track, as they inevitably will because nothing is ever perfect, ask yourself a few key questions.  

  • What is the real problem here?  
  • What am I doing - or not doing - that is contributing to the problem?
  • What can I do differently to help solve the problem?
  • How can I hold myself accountable for the result?

No one has a problem taking the credit when things go well.  However, when we stumble, it can be far too easy to deflect accountability and point to others to highlight what they  did wrong. You have the opportunity to become exceptional - not just at work but in life - when you dig in and put yourself in a position to own your outcomes.  We sure can’t control everything in our lives, but how we engage, operate and respond by taking accountability is a significant contributor aiding us in achieving the results we seek.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.