What is personal accountabilty?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The concept of personal accountability refers to an individual's initiative of taking responsibility for the outcome of an enterprise, whether it fails or succeeds. The person is holding him/herself personally accountable for something he or she expects to accomplish on his or her own initiative and volition. Examples of personal accountability can be found in different fields that include education, business, politics, and even within the medical field.

This goal choice is necessary and responsible but, when misunderstood as individual responsibility for joint (not individual) endeavors, it may be egregiously misapplied. Make no mistake, personal accountability is needed in attaining life goals, but let's examine some ways it may be misapplied.

Though personal accountability may in both cases--correctly applied and misapplied--seem courageous, or even admirable, when misapplied, it is by no means realistic: one person alone does not have the power to build, develop, or destroy systems, programs, goods or services without the intervention of a myriad of other variables. In fact, to deem oneself "the one and only" individual to be held liable for the failure or success of an important thing, system, or event, could actually be a wrongful self- attribution of unrealistic grandiosity.

Many times we hear someone claiming to ensure that things will work the way that they should and, to guarantee this, the person will summon personal accountability to show that things will be done correctly.

Yet, what people do not realize is that the words "personal accountability" are way too profound and imply way more than they seem: to be personally accountable for something is to dismiss the other things that are needed in order to make or break something. In other words, it means taking more responsibility than one, realistically, should.

Therefore, the best way to protect the good intentions of someone who really wants to demonstrate his commitment toward the success of a goal, is to simply state that every resource and every strategy will be applied towards ensuring success. Do not just put yourself in the epicenter of what could be success or chaos. Simply reinforce your role within a system as one of many different, functional, and equally important parts.

Unfortunately, there is another side of the story: many businesses and programs DO want to have ONE individual held personally responsible of the failures and gains of an enterprise simply because it is easier to find a scapegoat than to start a plan of action all over again.

A brief example of that particularly occurred with the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Act. During NCLB, many people felt that the government wanted to hold teachers 100% accountable for the failure or success of students. This, without considering the many other things that influence success, such as parental intervention, safe home and school environments, and the availability of academic resources, among thousands more. Although this is not a direct example of "personal" accountability, many of those who opposed NCLB explained that this is what it actually felt like: that the teacher, and only the teacher, would be blamed if standardized tests came out low. As a result, some districts were caught cheating during testing, people were fired, and chaos was the outcome. All this due to the general idea that, if things failed, only the teacher will be badly punished for it. Another example of why misapplied "personal accountability" is less than realistic.


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