Taking Personal Accountability versus Taking It Personally

Today’s guest post is by Doretha Walker. Doretha is the past president of the Charleston, SC Center for Women whose day job is Resins Production Planner for DAK Americas.  Always the over-achiever, Doretha ran her first marathon at age 45 and is working on her Ph.D.  She blogs at Wecanflyhigher.blogspot.com. The inspiration for her blog name was a fact shared by a friend that only 14 African-American women flew commercial airplanes.  Through her blog, Doretha provides inspiration, information and other links to topics to assist women in flying to their own success.

I learned that while it was encouraged to delegate authority (we even had Delegation of Authority cards) I knew that I could not delegate responsibility. I was completely responsible for what my unit did or failed to do. It is called accountability. I was accountable for my platoon and later my company. I should not blame others. I should investigate and implement processes and procedures to ensure that any failures should not happen again and learn the lessons.

Personal accountability is crucial for the success of any leader, yet is it surprising when we actually see it. Michael McCain of the Toronto based Maple Leaf Foods Company displayed it when the company’s hotdogs were involved in a major outbreak of food borne illness that caused  12 confirmed deaths and made many others seriously ill. He stood up publicly and stated,

Certainly knowing that there is a desire to assign blame, I want to reiterate that the buck stops right here… our best efforts failed, not the regulators or the Canadian food safety system… I emphasize: this is our accountability and it’s ours to fix, which we are taking on fully.

McCain immediately took responsibility and did not play the victim. While I am sure that there was an in-depth investigation and that some people may have lost their jobs, that topic was not discussed in a public forum. McCain – as the leader – took the brunt of the fallout.

On the other side of the personal accountability coin is taking things personally. Taking things personally is not the same thing as personal accountability. Although you should feel accountable for your department, it is not your fault if an employee violates a procedure or fails a task unless you were right there encouraging him/her or if you gave the directive for the violation.

If a process fails, yes you are accountable, but do not take it personally because it is not really about you. It is about the thing that failed. Perhaps, in hindsight, there are things you could have done differently, but regardless, do not take it personally.

Katie Skow states,

No matter whom you are or what you do, one thing is certain: criticism is inevitable. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your work or the way you do business.

Take it in stride, glean the lessons within the message, and apply them as necessary.

The best time to apply this is when you lose your job. It is difficult to understand that it is a business decision (consult your labor board if you think differently).  During this time, not taking it personally is not an easy thing to do, but by focusing your energies elsewhere you will get a sense of satisfaction especially when you find that better job.



One Response to Taking Personal Accountability versus Taking It Personally

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