Intent Blog

The Benefits of Accountability

Accountability is really a matter of responsibility. It is about being answerable for the execution of one’s responsibilities and commitments. It is about having the courage to stand up for and take charge of what is one’s own. The buck stops with the person who is accountable because that person does not, or cannot, shift the blame. They take the burden of success or failure on their own shoulders.

This is a very important part of professional success, no matter what your line of work. A person who is not accountable to himself and to others cannot be relied upon. You cannot give responsibilities to a person who is not accountable to himself and others because he cannot be trusted to maintain standards of performance without having another forcing him to do so. A person who is accountable to himself does not need to be controlled as they are fundamentally trustworthy. You can give a such a person responsibilities and know that they can be trusted with them.

Practically accountability involves, among other things, the ability to own up to your mistakes, both to yourself and to others. Mistakes happen, that is a fact of life. There are however different ways in which we can respond to mistakes. The accountable person responds to his/her mistakes by acknowledging them and then doing all he/she can to rectify the mistake. This is why an accountable person is trustworthy with responsibilities. When they mess up, they will tell you and will do what they can to fix it.

A person who is not accountable however will not be able to own up to his/her mistakes. Such a person will play the blame game, trying to offload responsibility onto someone else instead of carrying the burden oneself. Such a person of course cannot be trusted with responsibilities because when they make a mistake you can expect a cover up rather than efforts to fix it.

But what are the benefits of owning up to your mistakes? I will list 3 of what I take to be the most important.

1. Solutions come quicker:

The person who is in the best position to understand a problem is the one who caused it. If a person makes a mistake and immediately owns up to it, and also does all he can to assist in rectifying it, the solution will probably come rather quickly, even if the mistake is of quite a serious magnitude. Mistakes are not a problem, it is mistakes that are left unaddressed that come to cause real problems. By owning up  to your mistakes you ensure that they can be resolved quickly and efficiently if they need to be.

By not owning up to your mistakes there is the possibility that they can become serious problems. Also, if problems come to light and there are people playing the blame game this will also, naturally, impede the resolution of the issue. There can be no solution when individuals are trying to pin the problem on someone else.

learn-from-mistakes-life-quotes-sayings-pictures2. You learn through your mistakes:

Your last mistake is your best teacher. Albert Einstein once said that anyone who has never made any mistakes has never tried anything new. The truth is that we often make mistakes when we are challenged and stretched. We should accept these mistakes and use them to help us grow.

Mistakes are the stepping stones to learning. Through mistakes we learn how not to do things, so that we can do them better in the future. If you want to learn from your mistakes you have to own up and admit them. It is only once you have admitted your mistake that you will learn from it.

3. You will earn the respect of others:

As Bruce Lee says, every mistake is always forgivable, as long as you have the courage to admit it. People for the most part are forgiving when you make mistakes. They become harsh only when you try to cover them up.

Most often however people are not only forgiving when you own up to your errors, they actually develop a deep respect for you when you do. Owning up to your mistakes shows courage and accountability and these are things we instinctively respect in people. We cannot help but respect the person we think is courageous and accountable.

So, by being accountable to ourselves and others by owning up to our mistakes, we are helping to ensure that they are quickly fixed, that we learn from them, and that we earn respect in the process.

Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.