If I could only interview for one area, I would choose personal accountability and responsibility. When someone looks at a problem or difficult situation, they can focus on one of two things. Either their own ability to change things for the better or a self-pitying attitude of victimization.
If the outcome of something is in danger, personal accountability means having the ability, willingness and courage to change your attitude and behaviors to achieve the desired results.
The opposite of personal responsibility is victimization — feeling like you’re always targeted, that everything is unfair and focusing on what’s wrong rather than what you can change.
Someone who doesn’t have a high level of personal responsibility is a nightmare to work with. They’re always searching for someone else to blame or an excuse to explain why something hasn’t happened. This can halt your business growth in its tracks and create deep divides within your team.
What personal accountability looks like
Personal accountability is more than just commitments kept. Responsibility isn’t only about, “I do what I say I’m going to do,” or “I keep my agreements and commitments.” In today’s fast-paced environment, keeping your commitments isn’t always possible.
Sometimes, underlying realities change and put you in a position where you have to shift gears. Personal responsibility drives you to embrace that focus on desired outcomes and use what you can control to achieve them.
People are often put into tough situations because of business culture. We ask our employees to speak to clients for us and make commitments on our behalf. But when there’s a shift behind the scenes, and we have to change directions for the good of our company, the promises and commitments made by our employees are put in jeopardy.
The kind of attitude you want to see in this situation is someone who rolls with the punches, takes the changes in stride and moves in a positive direction. The ideal employee focuses on the end result and figuring out what actions to take to get there.
This is the attitude you’re looking for when you interview applicants. Sometimes spotting (and avoiding) the opposite is easier. So let’s dig into what that looks like.
The victim loop begins with denial
When someone fails to focus on their personal responsibility in a situation, they fall into what I call the “victim loop.” We all encounter the victim loop, usually multiple times a day. So the measure of success isn’t whether someone ENTERS the victim loop, but how quickly they recognize and ESCAPE.
Here’s an example of the victim loop in action. An associate of mine struggles with migraines, but manages them by following a special diet. She recently went on a family vacation to France and, understandably, just couldn’t get enough of their amazing pastries.
This was the first stage — ignoring how her actions contributed to the problems she faced. She was fine for four days. But then the headaches started.
The blame game
She started to look for people and things to blame.
She started by blaming the city of Paris for not having the right breakfast choices. When that failed, she moved on to blaming being on vacation. After all, if she were at home she wouldn’t have to make these difficult choices!
She focused on her family (“THEY’RE enjoying the pastries… Why can’t I??”) and then the situation itself (“It’s just so unfair!”).
Finally, she blamed herself. At first, this sounds like a positive action, because she’s focusing on where the problem lies — her own choices. Unfortunately, this approach almost always backfires because there’s no intent for affirmative, forward action.
So instead of looking at what she could do to fix the situation, she lamented her circumstances. Self-blame is where many people get entrenched in the victim loop.
Rationalization and resistance
When we focus on self-blame rather than personal responsibility, we rationalize and focus on all the reasons we were forced to make those decisions.
Someone stuck in this spot typically gets very defensive. “Sure, I made these choices, but really it’s someone else’s fault. I really couldn’t have done anything differently.”
This leads to resistance. Think about a child who throws a fit when he can’t win with logic. He crosses his arms, plants his feet, and pouts. He refuses to comply just because he has a bad attitude and doesn’t want to.
We all do this, we just tend to manage a slightly more nuanced, adult version of it. The final stage is hiding, where we seek to escape any accountability at all for our actions.
Escaping the victim loop
As you engage in behavioral interviewing techniques, clue in to key phrases that show an applicant is more focused on how he or she can make a difference instead of adopting a fatalistic, nothing-will-change approach.
If you hear someone denying problems, blaming others, rationalizing their choices or resisting change, remember that those attitudes can undermine an organization geared towards rapid growth. Rather than looking at how they can impact the future, victims focus on the past.
As I mentioned earlier, the victim loop is something we all find ourselves tempted with on a daily basis. People with strong personal responsibility do two things that make a drastic difference.
First, they recognize the loop for what it is: an artificial, self-pitying reality that doesn’t do anyone any good. Victimhood doesn’t create solutions. And doesn’t solve any problems.
Because of this, victims actively seek to escape the loop. These individuals reign themselves in, stop feelings of victimization and get to work on positive actions. They take ownership of what’s happened and look for ways to proactively change their situation for the better. This is the kind of employee you want.
If you want to position yourself for rapid growth, every employee must exhibit strong personal responsibility and accountability. This attitude will reinforce team dynamics and allow you to trust every person to pull his own weight. If someone encounters a problem, he’ll find a way to overcome it.
Building a team foundation on personal responsibility will always set you up for success.