Your Career and You: "Ask Questions and Be Accountable"

Two separate incidents within the last couple of weeks have given me cause to reflect on what seems to be a growing trend in “responsibility avoidance.”

The most recent was an article in the April 3 Boston Sunday Globe about the state’s Transportation Secretary who apparently was…or chose to be…”out of the loop” on matters relating to falling light fixtures (yes…”falling,” not “failing”) in a heavily-traveled Boston tunnel.

The other cause for reflection was a meeting with an internship advisee who is having problems with his internship; he puts the blame squarely on the person in charge of the organization he’s interning with.

The similarity between the two events was what caught my attention. Basically, neither individual is admitting that the problem might really be his fault.

While I’ll give the student a little leeway on this matter based on his youth and relative inexperience, I have a little problem with the guy at Transportation.

He’s not a “newbie.” He was a successful attorney for quite a few years (hmmm…lawyer…transportation secretary…I won’t wander down that path!), so he theoretically has some business management smarts.

This fellow admits he didn’t consider the public’s “need to know.” To which I ask, “What is it about ‘public servant’ and ‘public’s need to know’ that isn’t connecting?”

For the student…what is it about communicating with your supervisor that you’re not getting? Why aren’t you sitting down for a serious conversation about your needs as a student-intern and the organization’s needs?

In both cases, I would offer that the root cause in both cases is fear of being held accountable. “If I don’t ask, I can’t be blamed.”

That works maybe once in a blue moon, but rarely more often than that. As we see more and more, in the media and in daily life, people are being held to their responsibilities. They are being evaluated on what they are supposed to do.

So, to use a phrase from my favorite television program, South Park, “what we have learned here” is you have to ask questions…you have to make sure you have the answers… and you have to hold yourself accountable for your actions and your responsibilities.

It’s called “being grown up.”

“When a member of my family complains to me of having bitten his tongue, pinched a finger, or the like, he does not get the sympathy he hopes for but instead the question:
‘Why did you do that?'”
Sigmund Freud, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life” [1910], ch. 8


About kirkhazlett

35+ years' federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience followed by more than 20 years' undergraduate and graduate college teaching experience. Community and media relations expertise, as well as a fanaticism for quality service and customer satisfaction. PR for healthcare and member services organizations ranging from Blood Bank of Hawaii to Medical Area Service Corporation to Boston Harborfest. Consulting services for Manila and Singapore Red Cross.
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2 Responses to Your Career and You: "Ask Questions and Be Accountable"

  1. Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of a lesson learned from a communication consultant…he taught me "The Wonder Move" in which, in situations similar to what you've described, I should stand tall, take a deep breath as I raise my hand up over my head to sprinkle "wonder dust" on myself, and ask the question: "I wonder how I'm contributing to this situation?"There are a number of other questions one might ask in this situation, all associated with ownership and accountability. Good stuff, if we are willing to do the work!


  2. Thanks for the feedback! It is, indeed, a bit of a conundrum…kinda have to take responsibility and own what we do. An ongoing challenge for us all!


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