Many people make the mistake of assuming that a commitment to truth simply means promising to tell the truth to other people. It is far more important to be able to tell yourself the truth. Telling yourself the truth must come first. If you can’t be honest to yourself, you can’t be honest to someone else.
Telling yourself the truth isn’t something you do once and consider complete. It’s an ongoing process, something you commit to make part of your life — a way of thinking about yourself and the world that assumes that you don’t yet have all, or perhaps even any, of the answers.
Here’s an example of what I mean. For many years, I operated under the assumption that when something important and positive took place in my business or my career, I was the driving force behind that event. This is a common assumption among early-stage entrepreneurs.
When a deal closed, I believed I was the one who closed it — all by myself. When a program went well, I made a point of reminding myself that I was the one who had delivered that program. When a customer or client said positive things about something that had happened while working with our company, I took the credit for whatever they were talking about. In short, I assumed that I was the determining factor in my own success.
That’s simply not true.
As I’ve gotten older and, I hope, a little wiser, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that any success worthy of the name is collaborative. True success impacts other people; it engages other people along the way; and in fact, it requires other people to happen. A closed deal typically requires a good sales process, yes …but it also requires a prospect who is willing to talk about an emerging business relationship, and it requires a meaningful conversation about that relationship. Anyone who thinks closing a deal is something a salesperson does on his or her own hasn’t ever sold for a living. Similarly — a good program requires a good speaker, yes, but it also requires a good audience. If you don’t believe that, try talking to a large group of people who’ve had too much to drink! And when a customer or client says good things about your company, that’s never really about one person. It’s about your entire organization!
In telling myself persistently that I was the primary or even the sole reason for my company’s success, I had sold myself a lie in order to make myself feel good. These lies have a way of expanding over time. So, in my case, for instance, I told myself things like, “I’ve worked hard to get where I am and to improve my circumstances — so, other people could work hard and improve their circumstances too … if they wanted to.”
That’s a lie, too. Why? Because it left out the reality that I had plenty of people backing me up, people who worked hard and made sacrifices and gave me opportunities and mentored me along the way: grandparents, parents, business allies, clients, you name it. Yes: My decisions and my actions are what determine the quality of my life … but no, positive outcomes are not something I can magically deliver without initiating and maintaining the relationships that support those outcomes. I had choices and options that many other people did not have. The truth is that nobody accomplishes anything worthwhile without substantial assistance from others … and pretending that this is possible doesn’t help anyone, at any level.
It is this commitment to the truth, both to our self and to the people in our lives that produces accountability. It must be present if we are looking to be accountable individually or become accountable leaders.
The lies we tell ourselves matter! The conversations we have with ourselves matter! When we spot ourselves telling ourselves a lie, we need to acknowledge the truth … and proceed from facts. If we don’t do this in our own lives, how can we possibly expect it from other people?