According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, accountability is “the quality or state of being accountable; especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”

The above phrase “willingness to accept or account for one’s actions” most closely defines accountability. As managers, employees, business owners, peers, co-workers, students, spouses, friends, acquaintances, or strangers, we are ultimately responsible for our actions or lack of action.

You may or may not be familiar with the story about two wolves and the battle that each symbolizes within an individual and the message the story represents. The story is known by several names, “Two Wolves,” “Tale of Two Wolves,” “The One I Feed” and a few others. Although the author is not known, it is believed to be a Native American parable going back as far as the 1950’s or farther. For those who have not heard the story, it goes something like this:

An old Cherokee Chief was teaching his grandson about life…

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. “

One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.

“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

“This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”

So, when something does not go the way we would have liked it to, if we chose to be focused on being accountable, we should sit back and ask ourselves, “What could I have done to drive or influence the outcome in a direction I desire or can accept in a positive and productive manner?”

If we apply the theory from the message in the story above “the one you feed” to our work environment; the duties we are asked to perform; our response to situations, issues, or problems; and our interactions with co-workers, peers, leaders, and clients, while assuming responsibility and accountability for our personal reactions, interactions, responses, and feelings – we have a much greater level of control over the situation and therefore the outcome.

Using words like “can’t, won’t, doesn’t” when discussing a situation, we are likely placing blame or attempting to shift the issue or failure to someone or something else. The same goes for pointing fingers at other people or departments, with statements like “if the IT department would not have or would have —-,” or “John didn’t get it to me on time.” This is feeding the evil wolf, placing blame and shifting accountability.

Everything in life may not be within our control. However, our response to those things is within our control. Choose to feed the good wolf. Take control over your response by shifting reactions and interactions in a positive and productive direction. You may not be able to change a situation or outcome, but you can change your reaction to the situation.

The One You Feed – How You Choose to Respond

Rather than pointing fingers and placing blame, things we can do to feed the good wolf and move outcomes in a more positive direction include:

  • Focus on what you can do to address the situation from a positive and productive direction rather than focusing on who didn’t or did do something.
  • Work with the other department or individual by sending the work or task back to them to help them see the impact to you and other departments or clients if they fail to follow through on a task or duty.
  • Problem-solve together, review, and consider if there are better, more efficient ways to perform that task. Can a step be eliminated, changed, or improved to make the process more functional and effective?
  • Don’t let your anger and frustration, or the anger and frustration of someone else, drive a wedge between teamwork and communication.

By Deborah Siddoway, Director of HR Solutions, HR Service, Inc.