Saturday, January 23, 2010

ACCOUNTABILITY - Be Strong When You Make Mistakes

The words responsibility and accountability are often used interchangeably. In fact, they are closely related. When someone assumes responsibility for doing something, we expect that person to hold himself accountable for the consequences of his actions.

But the two concepts are different, and it’s helpful not to get them confused. While responsibility is all about taking action, accountability is about doing the right things with regard to the consequences of the actions taken.

Today I opened a new bottle of mouthwash. Like every consumable product with a cap, it had a seal. If you’re younger than thirty years old, you probably don’t remember a time when products had no seals. The story behind the seals is instructive...

In 1986, someone opened some bottles of Tylenol, laced them with cyanide and replaced them on the store shelf. The same kind of malicious product sabotage had happened a few years before, killing seven people. At the time, the Johnson & Johnson company failed to handle the crisis well, and the resulting scare caused their market value to fall by more than a billion dollars. By 1986, the company learned its lesson well. It immediately ordered a recall of Tylenol from every retail outlet. They announced they were responsible for delivering a safe product and so Tylenol would not be distributed again until they found a way to protect it from this kind of tampering.

As a result, they invented a seal, so that someone would have to break the seal in order to open the container and tamper with its contents. The seals signified positive assurance that the product was safe. The solution was so effective that companies everywhere developed similar seals for their products. Now almost everything is manufactured with a tamper-proof seal.

Johnson & Johnson soon recovered its lost market value and market share, as well as the cost of destroying the product. In fact, they now have the well-earned reputation of being a consumer champion. I hope they continue striving to maintain it.

Actions have consequences.

Even with good intentions, things don’t always go the way you expect. Sometimes you make a mistake, or you fail to do everything you needed to do. While coming up short may be embarrassing, the thing to do is to admit to yourself—and to others—that you were responsible.

And yet, it’s hard to say, “It was my fault.” You may be concerned that if you admit your role, people will think poorly of you. You might have to make amends. The temptation is to let the blame fall somewhere else.

The truth is, people respect someone who stands up and “faces the music.” They believe anyone who does so will probably deal honestly with them and can be trusted. They know people make mistakes, and they don’t expect you to be perfect. Besides, it’s futile to try to sidestep accountability. The truth almost always is discovered.

The question is, will you be seen for your strength or for your weakness? Admitting that you made a mistake and that you’re sincere about avoiding this mistake in the future will help people forgive you, so they can move on, and you can move on. If you can’t do this, people will see you as a person with dubious intentions, who isn’t strong enough to own up to the consequences of your actions. You’ll lose their respect and trust.

Admit your mistakes, and people will admire your strength.


The next time you make a mess of things, whether it’s a great big mess or just a little one, take this approach:
  1. Determine who was affected and what harm was done.
  2. Admit your role in what happened.
  3. Apologize for the consequences.
  4. Honestly explain your actions.
  5. Tell them what you learned from it.
  6. Promise that you won’t do it again.
  7. Make restitution, if possible.
  8. Be patient with people’s ability to forgive.
  9. Work on changing your behavior.
  10. Forgive yourself.
Pay full price for your mistakes, and you will prosper.

“A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.” - Jonathan Swift


Pamie G. said...

I recently admitted some mistakes with close family members. The reactions were that nothing had ever happened at all and everyone was so happy. I am glad that I took that road! Thanks for your inspirations, thoughts and for me, some much needed guidance!

Jen Kuhn said...

Another amazing blog! This is a life lesson so many do not learn. I would love to see this (this actual blog) read in classrooms. Get kids thinking critically, and understanding integrity. Also, the adults around them would then praise the accountability aspect, while dealing with the behavior or concern. To learn at an early age to take responsibility, rather than fear the consequences....oh, what a tremendous world we would create.

Unknown said...

Pamie and Jen, thanks for your stories. They go far to illuminate the meaning of my post.

Sethu said...

Mr,Denny Coates,

Good and inspirational one. keep writing please,

thanks for posting