“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
—John F. Kennedy

We’ve all done it. As much as we hate it in other people, we are guilty of making excuses and playing the victim. But when we make excuses, nobody wins and nothing changes. We get stagnant, our relationships lose ground, and our businesses suffer. To build a championship culture, we must build accountability, which promotes personal ownership and leads to increased productivity, and therefore, success.

There are barriers to building accountability, reasons why we and our team fall into the victim trap. We’re conditioned to follow rules, stay in our comfort zones, and operate by habit and routine more readily than to break ground. In the words of Mitt Romney, leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses. When we take our own medicine, we can start building cultural accountability in our teams. Let’s look at the questions that lead to victimhood vs. those that lead to cultural accountability.

Rather than taking charge, we find ourselves asking questions that stop accountability and build a victim culture: Why? When? Who?

Why? The Victim Questions
We ask (or more accurately, we whine!), Why did they do that to me? Why is this always happening to me? Why doesn’t the customer buy our product? Why? Why? Why?

It’s easier to play the victim than to own our successes and failures as our responsibility. Why questions blame other and take the responsibility of changing the situation away from us. Everybody loses.

When? The Procrastinator Question
We ask, When will THEY fix this so I can get my work done? When will THEY give me good leads? When will that department finally do their job?

We become the procrastinator. Waiting for someone else to do something is our excuse for not taking ownership and getting started ourselves.

Who? The Blamer Question
We ask, Who screwed this up? Who made this decision? Who left this mess? Whose job is it to fix this?

We become the blamer—much easier to lay it at someone else’s feet than to take action ourselves.

If you’re thinking these questions or find yourself saying them, stop. Immediately. They should trigger you to realize you’ve started down the victim path. Good news is that with a little discipline, you can change your mindset, take ownership, and build accountability with your team. The secret to accountability is to find situations to resist asking Why? When? and Who? and instead ask,
What? and How?

What: What can I do to improve this situation?
How: How can I increase my effectiveness this week? How can I make a difference?

Let’s consider our teams. When the social influence tends toward the belief that the future is what you make it, you have cultural accountability. When team members at every level think ahead instead of just reacting to their current situation, you have cultural accountability. In an environment like that, everyone wins.

To build cultural accountability, all changes and belief systems must start with leadership. When CEOs and managers refuse to make or accept excuses, cultural accountability becomes the norm. Accountability is all about action. It is a task-oriented value and is critical for individual and organizational success. We must go beyond the task at hand and ask ourselves the cultural accountability questions. What? and How? questions help us hold the standard for ourselves and for others to follow. People will fight to be on a team or in a company where everyone is asking what they can do to be a part of moving the goals forward.