Accountability: So much more than just ‘I’m sorry’


The term “accountability” is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

“the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions”

If you’re a fellow Canadian, you’ve become accustomed to taking responsibility for everything that happens to everyone. The other day, I was getting off a train when one man bumped into another. Guess who, without any hesitation, apologized? Yes, as you suspect, the bumpee apologized to the bumper!

Shaking my head, I couldn’t help but laugh, having been that nonsensical apologizing bumpee more than a few times. We Canadians sure know how to overapologize, don’t we? I think it’s part of our constitution, eh?

Accountability, though as humourously and misguidedly illustrated above, is actually an incredibly powerful term, which “I’m sorry” simply doesn’t do justice to. Corporately, it’s way too often referred to in the punitive sense, which only serves to make everyone in a room cringe in fear that they’re about to take blame for some major misstep.

While yes, accountability is very much about taking responsibility for our part in something that goes wrong, it’s also about taking responsibility for our part in something that goes right. That part for some reason seems more difficult to grasp, and probably because the word, for the most part, tends to be thrown out when things are going downhill.

I like to take another, more encouraging view of accountability:

Accountability and more specifically “personal accountability” is one of the most empowering concepts around. It’s a mindset, and it’s about ownership – of self: our choices, our actions, and the resulting outcomes we find ourselves in (negative and positive). It’s recognizing the incredible power we have to create the lives we want and to course-correct what we don’t want.

Yes, personal accountability as a mindset does mean the stakes are higher, but then so too are the rewards. Yes, it means that when we fail – and it’s OK, we all will some time or another – we accept our role in it. We get back up. We learn. We adapt. We move forward. And when we succeed – that no doubt will happen too – how great is it that we can accept responsibility for the choices and actions we made that led to that success?

Food for thought.


9 thoughts on “Accountability: So much more than just ‘I’m sorry’

  1. I think the topic of accountability is closely linked to your blog on integrity. Its true that people are not willing to be accountable for their actions in so many ways and this shows a lack of integrity. Just look at Rob Ford. But, in the end we are all accountable for our actions, whether we think so or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Rich and I think that accountability is even more magnified in the public forum when one is elected to represent a group of people. I wish more politicans saw it that way.


  2. I really liked your take on embracing both the positive and negative aspects of accountability. You’re right when you say that people more often than not shy away from taking credit where credit is due. I’ll try to remember your insights next time I’m feeling modest.


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