The Path to Excellence: Taking Personal Accountability and Zapping Excuse-Making

When we think of athletic champions or successful business people, we tend to believe that raw talent is what got them where they are; however, research shows this is inaccurate.

While they may start off with talent, what makes a champion (on and off the playing field) are disciplined practices and an unwavering commitment to being your personal best.

It’s what Atomic Habits author, James Clear, calls the “1 percent rule”: A commitment to growing, improving, and expanding in micro (or atomic) steps to be “slightly better” each day. In The Four Agreements, Miguel Ruiz calls the last agreement “always do your best,” which indicates a commitment to sharpening skills and behaviors–always. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, says that people with a growth vs. fixed mindset believe that, even if they haven’t reached their goals, it’s still possible if they just keep at it. Growth-mindset people usually end sentences with “not yet” and maintain an unwavering commitment to pushing forward toward their goals.

The key ingredients to personal accountability: (1) Desiring or committing to growth; (2) Practicing disciplined actions; (3) Seeking critical feedback; (4) Zapping excuses.

Before managers and leaders can coach or address other people’s personal accountability, we must first consider our own commitment to excellence.

Start by completing the personal accountability review below, deeply pondering your answers.

Personal Accountability Review
  • What is my personal commitment to excellence and personal growth? How do I currently hold myself accountable?
  • What limiting beliefs block my growth?
  • What disciplined actions do I engage in daily to become “1 percent” better?
  • How and from whom do I invite critical feedback on my performance, skills, behaviors, and attitudes?
  • What types of excuses am I prone to accepting? How do they prevent me from being my personal best?

What did you discover? What action steps might you want to take to increase your personal accountability and zap excuses?

Next, let’s look at how clearly we communicate. Only if we can check all the boxes on our end, can we have powerful conversations about commitment and personal accountability with others. If your answers are ambiguous, it’s time to clarify your personal habits, separating responsibilities from those of your employees.

Your Clarity Audit:
  1. Have I clearly communicated my non-negotiable standards and expectations about deliverables, interactions, work commitments, and personal accountability? Have I shared them with my team and engaged in a lively discussion to ensure they understand how my standards and expectations apply to them? Do they know what my non-negotiables are, and what will happen if they are violated? If you can’t answer yes to these questions, consider holding a session with your team to share your standards and expectations and ask for feedback.
  2. When I delegate projects or tasks, I first check them against the Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timed (SMART) acronym to make sure they are unambiguous and clear. When delegating or assigning a task, I indicate by when it’s due. If you can’t answer yes, consider how to clarify your instructions to avoid miscommunications or excuses.
  3. Do I use “we” when I should say “you”? Sometimes, in our desire to be “team players,” we send mixed messages. As a rule, avoid saying we if they are responsible. Avoid questions like, “What can wedo about it?” Shift to “What can you do about it?” That clarifies the directives, so the person holds themself accountable.
  4. Am I using upfront agreements effectively? Upfront agreements are excellent ways to ensure that potential challenges are identified and tackled in advance. If necessary, consider scenarios or deliverables for which you need to establish upfront agreements.

Once you’ve refined up your personal effectiveness as a manager, it’s time to coach your team. Hold a coaching session, asking them to respond to the personal accountability review.

Personal Accountability Review (for your team)
  • What is my personal commitment to excellence and personal growth? How do I currently hold myself accountable?
  • What limiting beliefs block my growth?
  • What disciplined actions do I engage in daily to become “1 percent” better?
  • How and from whom do I invite critical feedback on my performance, skills, behaviors, and attitudes?
  • What types of excuses am I prone to accepting? How do they prevent me from being my personal best?

Based on their answers, co-create a plan or upfront agreement to hold them accountable and zap possible excuses.

By conducting the review and committing to coaching your team on personal accountability, you’ll have a lot less excuse-making to zap. You’ll also find future performance coaching conversations are a breeze.