There are thousands of articles that touch on the skills necessary for success in the business world. By now, you’ve learned countless times over that resilience is crucial to progress. You’ve learned that domain expertise is important to being genuinely good at what you do. You’ve learned that networking is important in the business world. These are pretty obvious, and you don’t need to read another article to understand the importance of hard work.
An important skill that’s hardly ever touched on is accountability. Accountability is hard. In practical terms, it means not being 1 minute late to that meeting you scheduled with your team; it means that if you promise to finish your part of your team’s project, you’re going to continue working until it’s done by the date you promised.
Very few people master it, and those who do are trusted by everyone they work with and are people others enjoy working with.
In simple terms, this means doing what you promise. But more importantly, there are several subconscious factors that are crucial in mastering accountability.
Your own progress is grounded in your accountability.
Meaningful work is oftentimes a buildup of work that isn’t always the most fulfilling. When it comes to fulfilling our own promises, we often take shortcuts. When our bosses aren’t there to enforce a deadline and the only judges of our progress are ourselves, standards often decline. That project that you planned to do by Friday might get pushed to Saturday, to Sunday, to the next week, to the next month, to the next year, etc.
When it comes to finishing something we promise ourselves, and we have the choice of doing something that’s more intriguing or exciting to ourselves, we’ll opt to do that.
This is incredibly dangerous. And here’s why.
If you promise to achieve large milestones but never deliver on them, you create a false illusion that you’re actually doing something. If you never promise yourself anything in the first place, at least you know you’re not accomplishing anything. At least you’re not living in delusion. Not bullshitting yourself on how you’re spending your time is crucial because unlike bullshitting others, it actually has a negative impact on you directly.
So the point is, your success, your progress depends entirely on whether you fulfill your promises to yourself. With no goals and no execution, ideas are worthless.
Everyone deserves your accountability equally.
This one is often the hardest to master and internalize. To put it simply, if you wouldn’t be 2 minutes late to a meeting with the CEO of a big company, you shouldn’t be 2 minutes late to a dinner with your friend.
This probably sounds ridiculous because conventionally, who really cares if you’re late to a dinner? Your friend can probably wait, and chances are your friend won’t cut you off (I’d hope.) just for being late what we commonly think to be a trivial amount of time.
But to think of this scenario as a matter of quantity would be missing the point.
Being accountable isn’t at all about perception; that is to say whether or not you’re accountable really can’t be determined merely externally. It’s all internal.
Sure, your friend probably won’t care that you’re two minutes late to that one dinner – or even every dinner for that matter. But you should. If you think that it’s acceptable to be late to a meeting with your friend yet unacceptable to be late to a meeting with someone prominent in the business world, you’re not accountable, you just pretend to be. Oh, and your values are inconsistent too.
The progress of others is grounded in your accountability.
We’ve established why accountability is crucial to your own success. But to go a step further, most of the time your accountability impacts others too. The base case is you’re on a team and have deadlines to fulfill. Your team simply won’t be able to finish the entire project on time if it doesn’t have your portion by the planned deadline. If you’re running late, this obviously impacts the entire team, not just yourself.
To go back to the example with your friend, if you don’t show up on time, you’re wasting your friend’s. Just as much as you value your time, your friends, colleagues, and business partners value theirs.
People don’t like being held back by the missteps of others. People don’t like having their time wasted.
So, hold yourself accountable. If you promise a meeting at 12:00pm, 12:01pm won’t cut it. Understand the importance of being accountable. If you continue to think that that one minute is negligible, you’ll never truly be accountable for what you say and do. Where do you draw the line between what amount of time is negligible and what isn’t? It’ll never end.
Accountability is unlike the common buzzwords, like grind, grit, and other words of the like. It is a prerequisite to literally everything. To grind, you do have to have clear goals, but you have to be accountable for doing what it takes to reach them. To have grit, you have to be resilient when it comes to dealing with difficulty, ones that are deep and personal; but who’s monitoring your own grit? That’s right, nobody except yourself.
Accountability applies to any and everything if you think about it…
Steven is the founder of ProjectileX, Managing Editor of Youth Business Collective, Fellow at Stanford’s Designership Institute, and Member of the Youth Skills Initiative at Global Business Coalition for Education.