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5 easy habits to develop personal accountability

What is personal accountability?

There are numerous definitions for the concept of personal accountability, but in the most general terms, displaying it means you are someone who consciously takes ownership of your life and responsibility for your decisions and actions. Personal accountability is sometimes thought to be comprised of five habits:

  • Obligation: Duties that have consequences.
  • Willingness: Taking action more because we want to than because we have to.
  • Intent: Your purpose behind a plan.
  • Ownership: Control over something.
  • Commitment: Dedication to a task at hand and betterment of self.

Some frame it as a “before the fact” mindset of personal ownership and commitment to a result. 

It’s easy to see one reason why discussions of personal accountability are relevant right now: COVID and vaccinations. Almost the entire debate around vaccinations has ultimately come back to ideas around personal accountability and collective good, i.e. “OK, you don’t want the vaccine for ideological reasons, and I understand that, but can you think of your personal accountability to society beyond just you?” Since we’re not fully vaccinated as a society yet (nor is any individual country), obviously these approaches don’t work that well -- and that’s in part because people often conflate personal accountability with individualism, and those are actually different concepts.

Personal accountability is about owning your actions, decisions, and behaviors, and ideally building trust with others, fostering stronger relationships, and decreasing stress along the way. It’s about your personal development and your ability to confront issues head-on. 

Individualism is more about your individual decisions, and within mandate discussions, yes, there is an aspect of individualism at play. Some younger women may be concerned about vaccines and pregnancy; some may have had bad experiences with vaccinations in their family, and don’t want to get one. Those are individualistic decisions. But there’s a personal accountability piece to them as well -- because if you choose to opt out, and others confront you about it, you need to be able to stand your ground, own your decision, and explain it back. 

Table of contents

Why is personal accountability important?

Simplest terms: without it, no one would have to own any of their decisions, and personal + professional life would become wholly circular, without repercussions or clear goals. People having personal accountability, especially those in formal leadership roles, is the entire reason that organizations can work together, and the underpinning of hierarchy too: when something goes wrong, someone needs to be on the hook for that, and take responsibility. 

There are also personal benefits to developing more personal accountability, including:

  • Stronger relationships
  • Less stress
  • More trust of other individuals
  • Better sense of self and self-efficacy
  • More focused use of time
  • Higher self-esteem 
  • Growth mindset, i.e. idea that one can tackle anything they need to

It’s worth spending one second here on personal accountability vs. personal responsibility, as those two terms often also get conflated. Here’s the essential difference:

Most people have been responsible for the welfare of either themselves or another being at some point in their early lives. Young children are often responsible for pets or siblings.

Accountability is a word that carries a lot more weight, and is one that we don’t really hear until we enter the world of work and business. It can have positive and negative connotations, but research suggests that being held accountable for things can have positive effects on enhancing the feeling of self-control in the workplace. 

What is an example of personal accountability?

Let’s say your team works for a few weeks on a new pitch to an external partner. Some team members have a few late nights putting all the elements together. You’ve been working hard, and you’re charged with delivery of one aspect of the presentation on a Wednesday.

That Tuesday night, an old friend calls and is in town. You go out, and one drink + appetizers becomes more, and you get home late, sleep poorly, and are sluggish for your part of the presentation. The external partner is disengaged, and your teammates range from upset to downright furious. 

If you practice personal accountability, you will pull your team together and say “Listen, I screwed up here. I prioritized this time with an old friend too long, and it hurt my part of the presentation. I’m sorry. I can reach out to the potential partner and explain the context, or do whatever else is necessary, but that part is on me.”

If you don’t practice personal accountability, you’d likely say “It will be fine, whatever!” or “The point of life is friends and relationships, not pitches at work!”

One approach helps you build trust and respect on a team. The other one moves you closer to a new job. 

How do you demonstrate or practice more personal accountability?

Define clear roles on work projects: If you work closely with others on a team, ensure that everyone’s tasks and responsibilities are clearly defined and that everyone understands what they must deliver as well as the deadlines. Make sure that the team as a whole has ownership of the project as a whole so that problems and breakdowns can be surfaced early and problem-solved together. This is not common at work -- a priority vacuum and role confusion often exists -- but it can be done better.

Be honest: “Transparency” often feels like a buzzword in work contexts, but if you’re honest with co-workers (see example above), it goes a long way towards personal accountability.

Don’t be afraid to apologize: There are concerns in modernity about over-apologizing, or performative apologizing, under the guise of “cancel culture.” On work teams, or in personal relationships, put all that aside. If you need to apologize for something, do it. That’s the heart of personal accountability and trust.

“Be the change…” Ask for feedback on how you could have done things differently. Be open to constructive criticism and then apply what you’ve learned.

Know your avenues of accountability: Maybe it’s your spouse or significant other. Maybe it’s your boss and teammates. Maybe it’s another team at work. Maybe it’s your parents; maybe it’s the guy at the bar next to you crying about a breakup. Understand who you’re accountable to and you can practice it more directly. 

Personal accountability and viewing failure as a teachable moment

Accountable people don’t view mistakes as failures. Rather, they view them as teachable moments that will help make them better and more successful in the future.

One of the concepts you hear in this space a lot is “continuous learning,” which is also a major aspect in development of personal power and social capital. (It’s also very helpful in after-action reviews.) Being a continuous learner is a noble goal, although some people get overwhelmed by day-to-day tasks and responsibilities and don’t have the time for that. Even if you can’t specifically embrace the concept, realize that a mistake, or a failure, is not the end of the road. Many people fail, constantly, and end up with some notion of great success. Dyson made 5,127 prototypes of his vacuum, as one famous example. 

There’s an important aspect to this discussion around managerial responsibility. Many managers confuse “accountability” with “scaring someone,” which is bad management. No one needs to be scared, especially at work. Instead, consider other approaches:

Decide on the outcome you want. In this case it’s fairly straightforward: improved performance. Still, be specific. What does this particular person need in order to turn around this particular poor performance or failure? Maybe it’s help defining a stronger strategy, or brainstorming different tactics, or identifying what went right. Maybe they need to know you trust them and you’re on their side.

But here’s what people almost never need: to feel scared or punished. And more often than not, that’s how we make them feel when we “hold them accountable” in anger.

Bottom line: if you’re a manager, you hold personal accountability over other people, and that means you need to interact with them, instruct them, and provide them feedback in ways that will drive the best outcomes relative to how they like to work. That’s a major shift from simply managing your own personal accountability.

How can Fingerprint for Success help you develop increased personal accountability?

Just based off the last section, you can start by reading our guide on how to successfully hold people accountable at work.

Beyond that: we have options for personal coaching (including AI-driven), talent development, resolving conflict, and communicating better at work. All these programs will touch on some degree of personal accountability and the development of increased personal and professional responsibility, so we encourage you to give them a try!

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My Coaching Plan:

Our expert coaches have designed hyper-effective programs that will help 

you improve your mental health, wellbeing, productivity, leadership and more.

Our expert coaches have designed hyper-effective programs that will help 

You develop personal accountability for yourself or your team.

Coach Marlee (your amazing AI-powered personal coach) will analyse your unique traits and goals to let you know which program to start with (and if there are any you should skip)!

Your recommended programs include:

Big Picture Thinker

Inspire yourself and others to see the bigger picture! Increase your comfort and use of abstract and strategic thinking to gain a broader perspective in work and life. Big picture thinking is key in communication, leadership, businesses, selling, marketing, and situations where you need to get the gist of things quickly.

5 - 15 minutes
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8 weeks
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Goal Catcher

Inspire yourself and others to see and achieve grand visions and goals. A focus on goals is especially helpful for inspirational leaders, starting your own business, impactful communication, or for achieving awesome outcomes at work and in life.

5 - 15 minutes
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8 weeks

Personal Power

In this high impact eight week program Coach Marlee will help you increase your comfort and confidence to be in positions of influence and leadership, navigate organizational politics and also help you develop greater confidence to compete and influence at the top of your industry or field.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
8 weeks

Reflection & Patience

Develop ‘step back’ mastery for increased self-awareness and developing mindsets and tools for constant improvement. Reflection and patience is core to consolidating learning, development, strategic thinking, recharging and living an authentic and meaningful life.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
8 weeks

Start Fast

Close the gap between your great ideas and starting them. Energy and drive for starting is key for inventing new things, starting businesses, selling, marketing, socializing or in situations where you need to think on your feet.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
8 weeks

Trust Your Gut Feel

Explore, strengthen and stand by what you believe in at work and in life. Trust in your ‘gut feel’ and point of view is especially helpful for influencing, starting your own business, having your personal needs met and for living an authentic and meaningful life.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
8 weeks

Vital Wellbeing

In this high impact nine week program Coach Marlee will help you to increase your energy, vitality and general wellbeing while also helping you to break through self sabotage and develop life long skills for emotional resilience and self-esteem. Enjoy weekly cutting edge science backed wellbeing resources from both Marlee and our wellbeing partner Blisspot.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
8 weeks

My Coaching Plan:

Our expert coaches have designed hyper-effective programs that will help you improve your mental health, wellbeing, productivity, leadership and more.

Coach Marlee (your amazing AI-powered personal coach) will analyse your unique traits and goals to let you know which program to start with (and if there are any you should skip)!

Your recommended programs include:

Vital Wellbeing

In this high impact nine week program Coach Marlee will help you to increase your energy, vitality and general wellbeing while also helping you to break through self sabotage and develop life long skills for emotional resilience and self-esteem. Enjoy weekly cutting edge science backed wellbeing resources from both Marlee and our wellbeing partner Blisspot.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week
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Attention to Detail

Impress yourself and others with your attention to detail! Develop a genuine appreciation, energy and stamina for detailed thinking to execute your vision, measure performance in yourself and others while also accelerating your ability to learn and change.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week

Personal Power

In this high impact eight week program Coach Marlee will help you increase your comfort and confidence to be in positions of influence and leadership, navigate organizational politics and also help you develop greater confidence to compete and influence at the top of your industry or field.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week

Multiply Your Impact

Multiply your impact by embracing the experience and genius within others. During this eight week program Coach Marlee will help you to develop a genuine appreciation for experimentation and data and a willingness to empower the opinions, feedback and insights within your team and others in your life.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week

Trust Your Gut Feel

Explore, strengthen and stand by what you believe in at work and in life. Trust in your ‘gut feel’ and point of view is especially helpful for influencing, starting your own business, having your personal needs met and for living an authentic and meaningful life.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week

Big Picture Thinker

Inspire yourself and others to see the bigger picture! Increase your comfort and use of abstract and strategic thinking to gain a broader perspective in work and life. Big picture thinking is key in communication, leadership, businesses, selling, marketing, and situations where you need to get the gist of things quickly.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week

Reflection & Patience

Develop ‘step back’ mastery for increased self-awareness and developing mindsets and tools for constant improvement. Reflection and patience is core to consolidating learning, development, strategic thinking, recharging and living an authentic and meaningful life.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week

Start Fast

Close the gap between your great ideas and starting them. Energy and drive for starting is key for inventing new things, starting businesses, selling, marketing, socializing or in situations where you need to think on your feet.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week

Increase EQ

Explore, develop or strengthen your emotional intelligence (EQ). Awareness of your and others’ emotions is at the heart of influencing, ‘reading people’, impactful communication, deep relating and authentic connection at work and in life.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week

Goal Catcher

Inspire yourself and others to see and achieve grand visions and goals. A focus on goals is especially helpful for inspirational leaders, starting your own business, impactful communication, or for achieving awesome outcomes at work and in life.

5 - 15 minutes
 per session
2 sessions per week

Recommended program for you:

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