10 Words, 20 Letters: Being Accountable

I was fortunate early in my career to get some valuable, but simple advice. I don’t remember where it came from – probably from some motivational speaker or maybe the Dale Carnegie Course, since I spent my first few years out of college immersed in personal development. The advice is embodied in ten words, 20 letters:

If it is to be, it is up to me.

This simple phrase taught me the importance of accountability. In college, it’s every man for him/herself. You get graded on a curve, and you are actually discouraged from helping fellow students since, if they do better on their tests, you do worse in comparison. I got my comeuppance when I took this “every man for himself” attitude with me to my first job as a robotics engineer at IBM in Silicon Valley. It wasn’t long before I was getting counseled about the importance of teamwork in the real world and the need to lose the attitude that I developed in college. It was around this time that I discovered the phrase above.

I learned that it WAS part of my job description to help others. It was expected of me that:

  • My team accomplished its goals.
  • If I had something to offer other people in terms of experience or expertise, I needed to go out of my way to help them.
  • I could never place blame or make excuses for my failure to meet my commitments.

The corollary to this is that if someone tells me that they didn’t understand me, it means that I didn’t communicate properly, not that they have a comprehension problem. The responsibility for communicating my thoughts/ideas/directions lies with me, not with them.

Being accountable doesn’t mean that you have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, but it does mean that you have to own the responsibility for your results and those of your team. During my career, as I’ve gone from being an employee to a manager to a leader, I never forget this dictum. As a leader, I own the responsibility for my team’s success.

Lessons learned:

  • If someone doesn’t understand me, I don’t blame them. I look in the mirror.
  • As a leader, I am accountable for my team’s success.
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Written by:
Neil Kane, the Director of Undergraduate Entrepreneurship at Michigan State University, is a leading authority on technology commercialization and innovation and has the battle scars to prove it. He was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2007. His Twitter handle is @neildkane. He’s also on Google+ and LinkedIn.
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