Accountability: Another Resilience Asset
Was I Really Accountable?
By: Shelby Pittman, M.S.
How an OWLS team member learned the connection between accountability and resilience.
As part of my personal growth journey, I have taken steps toward becoming more accountable in my life. Accountability is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” However, this definition does not convey what it really means to show up. When I took a closer look at accountability, I found I needed to show up more to myself, and also to others, and to the environment I share with others.
The Eager Beaver
My inspiration for writing on the topic of accountability stems from a collection of experiences I have had during my time working as an intern at Organizational Wellness & Learning Systems (OWLS). When I first began working here last summer, I had many mixed emotions, as this was my first internship experience doing work that aligned directly with my career goals as well as my Master’s program (Industrial and Organizational Psychology, M.S.). I remember feeling excited and nervous, but mostly eager with anticipation, as I was finally getting hands-on experience helping other organizations become their best selves.
Initially hired on to aid in marketing and social media promotion, I was quickly brought in to assist with other projects occurring at the time. When others ask me about my internship experience, my answer still remains the same. My favorite part about working for OWLS is that there is truly never a dull or dry moment, as the tasks I am given change on a weekly basis! Being provided with such diverse and unique responsibilities day in and day out has allowed me to gain work experience that is rare in today’s corporate America.
Many people both (students and workers) today encounter feelings of burnout and resentment due to job demands and lack of support in their job roles, as well as pressures due to the COVID pandemic. Having a lot of different things to do (task variety) actually helps reduce burnout, especially for young workers like me. However, my story of personal accountability begins because of the richness and novelty that came with my various work tasks.
The Shadow Side of Being a “Yes Man”
As I continued to involve myself in one project after another, I started to feel the underlying pressure of keeping up with and meeting deadlines. I repressed these feelings, though, as I was determined to be the best version of myself, accepting nothing less than perfection. As a result of setting such unrealistic expectations for myself, the inability to keep up with it all really started to present itself at the start of my fall semester in graduate school. Growing up, I was always able to hold multiple jobs while in school without it ever becoming a problem. This time around, though, was unfortunately different…
Neither Weak nor Invincible
Surprisingly, there is a downside to grit. The “eager beaver” within me eventually hit a wall, reminding me of OWLS’ continued work on the topic of resilience. Resilience does not mean sucking it up and powering through. While confidence does play an important role in the “resiliency equation,” bravado (invincibility?) needs some tempering.
Resiliency is “our ability to bounce back from stressful events and learn from the process of bouncing back.” It is also our ability to successfully learn from problems. Every individual has a natural or innate capacity for resiliency, and it is this “self-righting tendency” that is strengthened when we work together as a team to build positive conditions in our lives. These conditions can be summed up as the ‘Five C’s of Resilience.’
The Team and I: Resilience as a Resource for Accountability
Each of these Cs has made a positive impact on my journey to becoming a more accountable individual. I had to see it was not just about me, but my team as well.
Condition #1: Centering. Resilient teams keep a healthy work-life balance and know when to take time out to get centered. They’re dedicated to their own and others’ wellbeing.
Continued efforts to be a “yes man” ultimately led to my undoing. Overwhelmed, exhausted, and feeling like I had no control over my life, I couldn’t keep up with all of my own self-imposed demands. Still, I refused to take a step back. The overachiever within me couldn’t accept what felt like failure and defeat. One part of growing up, however, is the ability to recognize our limitations and the need for outside help. I had to realize that this mentality of, “I am invincible” was no longer working, not to mention quite impractical. Further, I had to reach a breaking point before I could wholeheartedly believe that admitting I needed help was not a sign of weakness, but rather a key aspect of resilience. The practice of centering allowed me to re-evaluate my situation and begin taking steps in the right direction toward happiness and health.
Condition #2: Commitment. Resilient teams take time to clarify their direction, set goals for the future, and make plans for how they will achieve their goals.
As I reflect back, I now understand why things got chaotic. In my excitement to take on each work task, I forgot three important things. I failed to set realistic goals for myself, create a plan for carrying through on those goals, and follow-up with communication. Things just didn’t get done. For fear of appearing inadequate, I resorted to avoidance, which is never the answer. Those counting on me felt confused. The problem of perfectionism is growing among students and I was a victim as well. Commitment is different from perfectionism. It requires being honest with oneself and honest communication from the start of a task to its completion. I now make lists, take on each task one at a time, and make priorities. I have now made a commitment to devote an hour of my day to plan ahead accordingly.
Condition #3: Community. Resilient teams give and receive help when needed and know where to get help. They take the time to share their wisdom and also empower newcomers.
Along my journey of self-discovery, I learned the power of asking for help and delegation. Whenever unable to take on a particular task, I now take a pause. Is this something I can delegate to another team member? I use a framework we developed at OWLS, referred to as ‘Letting Go.’ This tool from OWLS helps with the virtue of detachment discussed in Dr. Bennett’s co-authored book Heart-Centered Leadership. An 8-step communication process reduces anxiety by increasing the delegator’s confidence and the receiver’s understanding. The practice of delegation goes hand in hand with heart-centered, inclusive, or collective leadership. I could not simply “let go” without first making sure that others were also equipped with needed resources, information, and support. When done correctly, this process builds community.
Condition #4: Compassion. Resilient teams have and live by principles. They care about each other and refuse to let anyone slip through the cracks by ignoring a problem.
I am fortunate to have a boss that provides me with grace when I fall short. Instead of dismissing a problem or jumping to conclusions, he takes the time to consider the causal roots of a situation. He provides suggestions for what can be done differently in the future to obtain better outcomes. In one meeting he shared that my failure to reach out about ongoing tasks, led him to believe that things were moving along without cause for concern. In actuality, tasks were not getting done as I was often unclear about what was expected of me. I now approach my boss and other team members with a proactive style of communication. Everyone benefits when I take action into my own hands. Accountability is about showing up for others even when it is not expected or reciprocated. By extending a helping hand to a struggling teammate, I witnessed the power of compassion in transforming the group into a unified, fully operating machine.
Condition #5: Confidence. Resilient teams have positive self-focus and believe in their abilities to handle any situation. They see stressful situations as challenges and also know their limits.
I have found more confidence in my work team by leveraging the unique strengths that each person brings to the table. The CliftonStrengths assessment is completed by all staff members at OWLS. Through our collaboration partner and CliftonStrengths coach, Dr. Ben Dilla, we created a team chart that reflects each individual’s top strengths. Our strengths fall into one of four domains (e.g., executing, influencing, relationship building, strategic thinking). I now refer to this tool when faced with a task that is team members strength. Being your best self means playing to your strengths and helping others play to theirs. Doing so has helped me move from a state of stress to thriving. When I utilize my strengths as well as my teammates, I find that we are more engaged, more productive, happier, and healthier. A new understanding of where I flourish, and where I can improve, has instilled within me an air of confidence. This empowers and drives me toward success each and every day.
A Fresh Perspective
In sharing this story, my hope is that others walk away with a newfound appreciation for accountability as it relates to resilience and its potential to transform one self and others. Without having faced the trials and tribulations that I did throughout my internship experience, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the true power and meaning behind this concept.
While this transition does not happen overnight (and it is still a work in progress), I want to share three key elements that helped me to evolve into a more accountable self:
- Knowing and acting on positive values
- Taking responsibility when I see things that do not fit with those values
- Showing determination in proactively making the right things happen (i.e., setting up situations that manifest those values)
Full accountability means that you keep at it, you persevere, and you try (and try again). By considering what it means to be accountable in ways I had not thought about before, I have been able to adopt a new approach in how I show up for myself and others not only in the workplace, but in all aspects of my life.
Further Reading on the Five Cs of Resilience
Note. The Five Cs of resilience were developed through our research on Team Resilience. We also have a whole blog series from OWLS staff devoted to each of the Five Cs.
- Centering: Mindfulness 101 and Meditation – Not just for Hippies, I promise (by Michael Neeper)
- Commitment: Which is more important for commitment: Safety or growth? (by Dr. Gale Lucas)
- Community: Heroes in Everyday Life (by Dr. Brittany Linde)
- Compassion: The Do’s and Don’ts of Donation (by Dr. Gale Lucas and Michael Hudson)
- Confidence: The root of success... can it also lead to failure? (by Dr. Gale Lucas)
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