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How (Personal) Accountability Drives Empowerment

name badge that says Hello I am accountable
Peter Myers Photo
Senior Vice President
DDJ Myers Ltd

5 minutes

When leaders take charge of their outlook, they can more effectively embrace opportunities.

Holding oneself accountable is more than a slogan or bumper sticker. A fundamental tenet extraordinary leaders embrace is that the degree to which they hold themselves accountable dictates the extent of their empowerment and ability to effect positive change. When this perspective is primary, it forwards actions and builds trust. When it’s absent, it not only feeds a blame game but narrows executives’ perspectives about how to make an impact.

This principle reverberates through many aspects of strategic execution. “So-and-so department is in charge of that project and we’re just waiting for them (to get their act together)” is a perspective that dictates a lack of empowerment. Contrast that with, “Yep, they’re assigned this project and yet I know they need help, so we will step in.”

As a common yet largely underappreciated example, we hold that you are accountable for managing your mood. Period. It’s easy to rationalize a bad mood by pointing to a stressful work assignment, a pushy colleague or a harried commute. But that looming deadline and the driver who cut you off on the highway don’t have the authority to determine your emotional outlook and attitude for the rest of the day. 

This pivot in reasoning that is taking control of your mood can empower you to lead your team to overcome difficult situations. It’s not about contriving a smile or “faking it until you make it.” It’s about “being in choice” and accountable for your responses to all situations.

Accessing this degree of accountability empowers leaders to choose effective attitudes and behaviors that will serve their long-term goals. Amanda Cashatt, card services manager with $1.2 billion DuPont Community Credit Union, Waynesboro, Va., says applying this concept has helped her “take a lot of the victim language out of my vocabulary.” 

When situations happen that are beyond her control, Cashatt recognizes and embraces the fact that she is accountable for how she reacts emotionally and for the actions she takes that affect the outcomes.

For Jason Clarke, DuPont Community CU’s VP/risk management, embracing accountability has helped him take a proactive and deliberate approach to his career. “I had no path or plan. I used to think that promotions and leadership would come to me because people would recognize that I’m doing a good job. And if I wasn’t promoted, then maybe I wasn’t doing a good job. It was a very passive approach,” Clarke recalls. 

Another area where leaders can take control is in becoming aware, especially in pressure situations. Having a centered presence, being attentive to yourself and to others, attending to the situation’s context and aligning your efforts toward the best possible outcome can help build productive relationships and enhance trust, particularly in situations that might evoke negative reactions. 

It’s also important for leaders to learn how to build congruence between the content of their messages and the ways they want to “be” when delivering those messages. If they want to inspire a team and compel decisive action, their messages and actions must align and reflect a high degree of personal accountability and therefore self-empowerment. If they need to deliver a piece of unsavory feedback and want the other individual to stay in the conversation and voluntarily come to a joint resolution, they need to be grounded, centered and direct. Again, they manage themselves to produce the best possible outcome.

Cashatt has found self-awareness regarding her message and delivery to be useful both in her work and in her personal interactions. In her home life, she has learned to take the time to understand her husband’s perspective and to consider which behaviors to model for her son.

“He is a 2-year-old learning about his emotions and how to navigate those, and I think about how my reactions to things feed into how he will learn to react to issues and crises and problems as they come up as he grows,” she says. “I think about the fact that he is in the ultimate place of learning. He is watching everything I do and sponging every reaction from me and his dad and how we speak to each other.” 

Regarding the idea that the leadership principles of accountability and empowerment have both professional and personal implications, Heather Brammeier says, “You are not just you at work and you at home. You’re one complete person, so where you’re at affects all these different areas where you’re connected.” 

Brammeier, accounting administrator with $76 million Valley Credit Union, Salem, Ore., has learned the importance of centering and of tailoring communication to other people’s styles as part of her personal and professional interactions. She recently switched departments, moving from a member-facing position to become an accounting administrator. She also has become more willing to step up and take on new projects.

“I talk it through with my supervisors, ‘Can I help? Can I take this on?’ And they say, ‘Yes, take it and run with it,’” Brammeier says. “They don’t question the decisions I make because I’m constantly keeping them updated about what we’re doing. There’s some learning I may need to do and some adjustments I may need to make, but I can see more and more that I’m not limited to where I’m at.”

The most challenging—and ultimately, most successful—part of her professional journey, she adds, “was really getting my head wrapped around all my potential.” 

“I did really start to tap into all of me—not just who I thought other people wanted me to be or what I thought I was. I had to dig down and find out, ‘This is really who I am. This is really how I operate. This is how to access my full potential,’” Brammeier explains. “I could see myself being an executive, and that’s amazing because I never would have thought that a year ago.” 

Peter Myerssenior vice president of CUESolutions provider DDJ Myers Ltd., Phoenix, will be a featured presenter in the Sept. 27 CUES Webinar, “Talent: Developing & Leveraging Your Most Valuable Asset.”  

For an in-depth view on leadership development as a foundation for strategic execution, download the “Missing Link in Strategic Execution: Developing Mid-Level Leaders” whitepaper in the CUES research library.

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