The 10 Top Accountability Killers

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

Are you accountable? If you’re like most people, your answer to that question is an automatic “Yes” or maybe even an indignant “Of course, why are you even asking me?” But are you truly in the clear? Probably not. Most of us are guilty of small behaviors that crack our accountability façade and hurt us, both personally and professionally, far more than we realize.

Often, we’re critical of these behaviors when we see them displayed by other people, but we give ourselves a pass when we’re the ones engaging in them. We tell ourselves, It’s just a one-time thing…I don’t usually act like this. But failing to act accountably can damage your reputation, your relationships, and your career opportunities.

Here, in no particular order, are our picks for the top 10 accountability killers:
1. Showing up late.
Sure, there are legitimate reasons why even the most responsible person might be running late: a fender bender, a sick child, an unfortunate coffee spill, to name just a few. Everybody gets a pass on this one from time to time. However, if tardiness is a habit—if others expect it from you rather than being surprised by it—you’re not being accountable. You behavior sends the message: “I don’t value your time. I believe I’m more important than you”—or at the very least, “It’s not important to me to honor the agreement we made.”

2. Saying you’ll do it…and then not doing it. Again, sometimes “life” happens. If an unforeseen crisis derails your best intentions, most folks are likely to understand. But if you find yourself constantly making excuses, asking for more time, or expecting others to understand why you “just didn’t get around to it,” it’s time to make a change. Either start pushing yourself harder or stop making promises you can’t keep.

3. Being offended by the truth. When someone calls you out—for dropping the ball, for behaving badly, etc.,—how do you react? If you’re indignant or offended instead of open to the possibility that the other person has made a valid observation, you’ve damaged your accountability.

4. Covering up mistakes. The fact that others don’t know about a slip-up doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. If nothing else, your accountability will suffer in your own eyes. You also run the risk of setting a bad precedent for yourself. The next time something comes up, you’ll think, Well, last time this happened I just shredded the document, or, I’ll just delete the customer’s email again. No one noticed before. Because you get away with it, you start to think it’s okay. But if your actions do come to light, your public reputation will take two hits: one for the original mistake and one for trying to hide it.

5. Blaming others. The so-called “blame game” is one in which nobody wins—least of all the person pointing the finger. Even if the fault lies with someone else, part of being an accountable person means doing your best to offer solutions in addition to pointing out problems. If the blame does lie with you, it’s dishonest and reprehensible to attempt to shift it to someone else.

6. Doing the bare minimum. Is your M.O. to do just enough to get by and then hope no one calls you on it? Do you ever withhold information or shoot down ideas that could make a project better because it will require you to do more work? If so, not only are you preventing yourself from giving and doing your best, you’re also making yourself look bad in the eyes of others. You aren’t getting away with anything. People will notice your laziness and it will affect your reputation, which can lead to very negative consequences in your professional life.

7. Ignoring others’ bad behavior. Remember that time when one of your peers threw his weight around and bullied one of his employees? Not wanting to get involved in the drama, you took the “none of my business” approach and chose not to speak up about the manager’s bad behavior. When people see you ignore problems, especially when you’re in a position to do something about them, they assume you approve of the bad behavior. They may think you’re the same kind of manager as the guy yelling at his employees. Don’t be guilty by association. Speak up and show that you value fairness and respect.

8. Failing to take—or give—feedback. When you can’t or won’t accept feedback, you communicate to others that you aren’t interested in improving your performance?that’s pretty obvious. But there are also accountability implications associated with being unwilling to give feedback—it shows that you’re concerned with only your piece of the puzzle instead of the big picture.

9. Being a victim instead of a solution finder. Sometimes, the bad things that happen to you really aren’t your fault. You couldn’t have foreseen that last night’s storm would cause a tree limb to fall on your car. And you certainly didn’t intend to catch that nasty flu. But guess what? The way you choose to handle these situations can still add to or detract from your accountability. You can either be known as a problem tackler or a problem wallower—the choice is yours. I recommend choosing the former, which shows resilience and maturity. Let others see that you’re willing to take responsibility, even when a problem wasn’t your fault.

10. Having a “me-first” attitude. Bob zips into the last parking space at a crowded restaurant, conveniently “not noticing” that another driver had been waiting for it. After the meal, he sees that he was undercharged, but decides to simply consider the appetizer that didn’t make it onto the bill a windfall. On the way home, Bob encounters a car trying to merge onto the freeway, but speeds up instead of letting the other driver into his lane. Yes, Bob sounds like quite a jerk, but the truth is, most of us have been Bob at one point or another. Having a “me-first” attitude, especially when it means hurting or willfully inconveniencing someone else, hurts your accountability, because you’re showing yourself to be inconsiderate, selfish, and maybe even dishonest.

If you want to build genuine, lasting success in any aspect of your life, especially as a manager, you need to be someone whom others can trust. Any time you give someone a reason to question your honesty, your dependability, your intentions, or your values, you’ll incur consequences. The good news is, most “accountability killers”—as well as their ramifications—are preventable, if you’re willing to examine you behaviors closely and honestly.

Learn additional strategies for improving your accountability with these AMA seminars:
Moving Ahead: Breaking Behavior Patterns that Hold You Back 

How to Communicate with Diplomacy, Tact and Credibility