Be accountable if you want to count

The recent political silly season is over – finally – and once again, I was listening for one particular word in the endless ads that peppered the airwaves:  accountability.

It seems like the only time you hear that word is in the context of blaming one’s opponent for lack of it.  I suspect that the reason so many of us grow so weary during political campaign season is that the finger-pointing is more prevalent than accepting responsibility for one’s actions.  And the gridlock that ensues is always the other person’s fault.  Can someone please make it all stop?

Businesses, on the other hand, can’t afford to shirk responsibility or accountability.  Customers expect nothing less.  Accountability must be a core value, never compromised, never up for discussion.

“Leaders must develop a lower threshold for alibis and become better communicators and enforcers of what they want done,” writes Dave Anderson, author of “No-Nonsense Leadership.” “If you are more interested in being liked and popular than holding people accountable for results, you have a serious leadership weakness.  It is not your job to make people happy.  Your job is to get them better.  Holding people accountable to high standards and results is nothing to apologize for.  Failing to stretch them to their potential is.”

My friend Bob Dilenschneider, founder and principal of The Dilenschneider Group in New York, counsels corporations all over the world on planning and communications.  In his recent “Red Book” paper on “Why Accountability Matters,” he suggests that rather than dwelling on culpability, focus instead on accountability in terms of taking responsibility for one’s actions.  “Accountability should be approached as a mindset – one that shapes our goals and the action you take to achieve those goals.”

accountability3To me, that means accountability is a good thing, not a negative.  I want to own my decisions because I try to do the right thing even when it is not the easy thing.  I am willing to accept the blame when necessary as well as the credit when deserved for my actions.

“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership.  And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have,” says Pat Summitt, former Tennessee women’s basketball coach.  For the record, she holds the most all-time wins for a coach in NCAA basketball history of either a men’s or women’s team in any division.

Accountability starts at the top and needs to be clearly communicated in every facet of business.  Employees need to share common goals with management, take ownership of projects, and work as a team to the best of their ability.  Managers engender accountability with these steps:

  • Establish clear deadlines.  Reporting on progress must be a priority for management and employees alike.  Set specific timetables, schedules and dates for reports and completion.  Employees need to understand the importance of keeping everyone in the loop.
  • Deal with problems immediately.  Employees whose work does not meet requirements can destroy a project and ruin your relationship with customers and other employees.  Find out what caused the problem:  miscommunication on your part, lack of willingness or ability, unrealistic deadlines?  Then do whatever you must to address the issue.
  • Don’t tolerate excuses.  An employee who always has an excuse will never take responsibility for his or her work.  Your customer expects results, not excuses.
  • Remove obstacles.  If managers or employees can’t achieve desired results, look for the issue and correct it.  There may be legitimate problems that are preventing progress.  Computer glitches, overloaded schedules or slow delivery of materials are unexpected complications that you cannot afford to ignore.
  • Delegate wisely.  Sharing ownership in a project lets your staff know that you trust them and that you are sharing responsibility as well.  Coach those employees so they understand how their performance contributes to projects.
  • Give sufficient authority.  Don’t think of this as having someone else to blame.  Rather, consider it an opportunity for employees to demonstrate their potential and bring fresh perspectives.

USA Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, aka Coach K, says, “In putting together your standards, remember that it is essential to involve your entire team.  Standards are not rules issued by the boss; they are a collective identity.  Remember, standards are the things that you do all the time and the things for which you hold one another accountable.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Accountability is the ability to accept responsibility. 

Motivation lets you be your best self

I began a second or third career as a “motivational business speaker” about 26 years ago.  Several times a month, I have the privilege of speaking to a Fortune 1000 company, offering business advice and inspiring stories to stir people to capitalize on their abilities and reach their full potential.

I love this part of my job.  I’ve met thousands of people who are looking for help getting started – a little extra motivation.  But what they perhaps don’t understand is that while I may be a good storyteller and enthusiastic cheerleader, the motivation doesn’t actually come from me.  It’s the “fire in the belly” of the listeners that will eventually determine whether they achieve more than they thought they could.

That’s right – motivation must come from within.  You have to ignite your own passion.  Otherwise, how do you explain that in a roomful of people who hear the same message, some will just go back to the office, grateful for the break, while others go on to accomplish great things.

motivationI am fascinated with the science of what makes people tick.  Let me share an example from a pioneering thinker in the field of workplace motivation, David McClelland, who developed many of his theories in the 1950s and ’60s.

With no stipulated rules, volunteers were asked to throw rings over pegs just like the fairgrounds game.  Most people seemed to throw from arbitrary, random distances, sometimes close, sometimes farther away.  But a small group of volunteers, whom McClelland suggested were strongly achievement-motivated, carefully measured and tested distances that would produce a challenge that was not too easy, but not impossible.

McClelland identified the need for a “balanced challenge” in the approach of achievement-motivated people.  People with a strong achievement-motivation need to set themselves challenging but realistic goals.

That makes perfect sense to me.  I have an easier time getting motivated to sell to an account that I have a reasonable expectation of landing, even if it takes several – or many – calls.   I can talk myself into going back again and again if I want it bad enough, and I think I have a chance of success.

As humorist Oscar Wilde put it, “My great mistake, the fault for which I cannot forgive myself, is that one day I ceased my obstinate pursuit of my own individuality.”  In other words, the day he lost motivation to be his best self.

motivationmanifesto2My friend Brendon Burchard has set out a plan that demonstrates how to avoid that trap.  His new book, “The Motivation Manifesto:  9 Declarations to Claim Your Personal Power,” is based on the theory that “a vibrant, genuine, and purposeful life is the right of all humankind. . . Humankind’s main motivation is to seek and experience Personal Freedom.”

Personal Freedom, he says, is important because “when controlled by others, life loses its flair, and we are cast into melancholy and mediocrity.”

That sounds to me like the opposite of motivation.  So we need to be free to be motivated.  But, Burchard says, that presents a difficult choice, “between the comforts of fitting in and pleasing others and our higher motive for Personal Freedom.”

He says “to achieve Personal Freedom, we must dedicate ourselves to self-mastery; we must determine and discipline our own motivations to stay true to our sense of self, to our own path.”

Overcoming fear – specifically fear of failure – is essential to freedom.  He encourages readers to repeat this mantra:  “Fear wins or Freedom wins, and I choose Freedom.”

And perhaps his boldest statement is this:  “Our entire human value system rests on motivation.  None of the great human values that keep us and society in check – kindness, love, honesty, fairness, unity, tolerance, respect, responsibility – would flourish if we were not motivated to bring them to life.”

Sustaining motivation requires real effort.  In order to claim the personal power required for motivation, Burchard presents and expands on these nine declarations:

  • We Shall Meet Life with Full Presence and Power
  • We Shall Reclaim Our Agenda
  • We Shall Defeat Our Demons
  • We Shall Advance with Abandon
  • We Shall Practice Joy and Gratitude
  • We Shall Not Break Integrity
  • We Shall Amplify Love
  • We Shall Inspire Greatness
  • We Shall Slow Time

Motivation is a daily challenge.  But understanding the rewards makes the effort worthwhile.


Mackay’s Moral:  (with thanks to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu) “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” 

Thrive on pressure

Pressure.  The very word strikes fear into many people.  Winners thrive on pressure while losers fear it.

What is pressure?  My definition of pressure is when you absolutely have to do something you are not prepared to do.  If you have to kick a field goal to win a big football game and you aren’t prepared to do it, you are going to be nervous.  You’re going to feel pressure.  But if you’ve really prepared for it, you can’t wait to show people how good you are.

That’s why winners look forward to pressure.  It brings out their best.  People who welcome pressure are more successful.

HarveypressureConversely, pressure can cripple you if you’re not prepared.  When pressure is self-inflicted, it can control you.  Pressure is an attitude.  It’s 10 percent of what is happening and 90 percent of how you handle it.

Don’t be like by friend Mark.  They used to call him “Jigsaw” because every time he was faced with a problem, he went to pieces.

Tennis pro Billie Jean King said:  “Match point is a love-hate relationship.  The torment of ‘Oh, God, what am I doing here?’ and ‘This is it!  This is what I’ve been working for.’  I know this is why I paid the price.  This is what it’s all about if you want to be a champion. The challenge of that moment.  Match point!”

To be a champion in sports or business or any phase of life, you have to learn to handle pressure.  If you’ve prepared mentally and physically, you don’t have to worry.

During my corporate speeches I repeat one of my favorite aphorisms: “Practice makes perfect … not true.  You have to add one word … Perfect practice makes perfect.”  I wish that I had coined that phrase but I didn’t.  Legendary pro football coach Vince Lombardi did.

This is why over my lifetime I’ve had numerous coaches to help me develop whatever natural talent I have.  I’ve had coaches for public speaking, writing, ideas/creativity, running marathons, golf, tennis, water skiing, swimming, bowling, basketball, to name only a few.  I’ve even had a dance coach … thanks to my wife.

Why do I have all of these coaches?  Because whatever my God-given talent is, whatever my God-given potential is … That’s it.  I can’t do any better.  But I will still try to do the best I can, with the best help I can get.

If I have a project, I’ll have a time and action calendar; get the best coaching I can find; and then try my hardest and focus and give it all I’ve got.

Should I feel pressure?  Yes, but I will use it to my advantage.  I’m as prepared as I can be.  I can’t do anymore.

Research shows that one of the key ways to deal with pressure is to have a feeling of control.  And what better way to be in control than to be prepared and experienced.

Take NASA as an example.  NASA puts all its astronauts through situations they might encounter in space.  Who can even begin to think about what might happen thousands of miles in space?  The moon is more than 238,000 miles away from earth!  Pressure? You better believe it.  But they are prepared.  If you are familiar with what is happening to and around you, you will have a powerful feeling of confidence.

Let’s face it.  No matter what, you are going to be in pressure situations.  No one is free from pressure.  It can’t be avoided.  Don’t panic.  Don’t lose your cool.  Concentrate.  Return to fundamentals.  Get your confidence back.

As simple as it sounds, try taking deep, relaxing breaths.  Pressure often causes people to breathe more quickly and shallow.  Deep breathing allows oxygen to more efficiently enter the blood and the brain, which will help you think more clearly.

Don’t stress over what you cannot control.  Everybody gets a curveball now and then.  Shake it off the best you can.  Be flexible and appreciate adversity.  It will help you grow stronger.

As Jacques Plante, a former professional hockey goalie for the Montreal Canadians once said, “How would you like it in your job if every time you made a small mistake, a red light went on over your desk and fifteen thousand people stood up and yelled at you?”

Try to relax.  Things could be worse.


Mackay’s Moral:  A diamond is a chunk of coal that made good under pressure.

There’s great value in a good value system

One of the most interesting traits of any person is the value system by which he or she lives.  I wonder how many of us ever take the time to sit down and really think through the moral precepts that consciously or unconsciously guide our lives.

I stumbled across this personal creed of “Daily Dozen Values” by writer Robert Louis Stevenson (“Treasure Island”) many years ago, and I’ve always wanted to write about it because it is as true today as it was in 1875 or so when he wrote it.

  1. smileyfaceharveyMake up your mind to be happy.  Learn to find pleasure in simple things
  2. Make the best of your circumstances.  No one has everything, and everyone has something of sorrow intermingled with the gladness of life.  The trick is to make the laughter outweigh the tears.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Don’t think that somehow you should be protected from misfortunes that befall others.
  4. You can’t please everybody.  Don’t let criticism worry you.
  5. Don’t let your neighbor set your standards.  Be yourself.
  6. Do the things you enjoy doing, but stay out of debt.
  7. Don’t borrow trouble.  Imaginary things are harder to bear than the actual ones.
  8. Since hate poisons the soul, do not cherish enmities and grudges.  Avoid people who make you unhappy.
  9. Have many interests.  If you can’t travel, read about new places.
  10. Don’t hold postmortems.  Don’t spend your life brooding over sorrows and mistakes.  Don’t be one who never gets over things.
  11. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself.
  12. Keep busy at something.  A very busy person never has time to be unhappy.

What a terrific list!  Can you imagine what the world would look like if we all followed such a code?

While I agree with all of Stevenson’s thoughts, I suspect we could all add a thing or two to fit our own needs.  And I would encourage you to take some time to do just that in the near future.  See if doing so doesn’t help you define your goals and dreams.

What is really important to you?  How do you want to conduct your life?  What are you willing to do – or not do – in order to have the life you want?  Is there a line you will not cross?

It is reasonable to expect that most adults would do their best to do the right thing.  And that has taken on a new importance in the world we live in, where our words and deeds are often subject to cameras and shared online for the world to see.  But having an established value system goes beyond that – it takes the guesswork out.  Because you have already thought about how you want to live, and be perceived, your responses and reactions can often be automatic.  You won’t even have to think about your actions.

A remarkable book by retired Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine might provide the inspiration you need to organize your thoughts.  In “The Way of the SEAL,” Divine recalls his own experience defining his purpose at Officer Candidate School.

His own SEAL commander asked him what he stood for.  His answer, “justice, integrity and leadership,” was not enough for the commander, who pushed on:  “What are your rock-bottom beliefs, that stand beyond which you won’t be pushed?”

After some reflection, Divine wrote his personal stand:

  • “Destiny will favor me if I am prepared in mind, body, and spirit.
  • There’s no free lunch; I must work harder than expected and be more patient than others.
  • Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and I must earn it in the arena of action.
  • As a warrior, I will be the last to pick up my sword but will fight to protect myself, my family, my country, and my way of life.
  • I will strive to live in the present, resolve with the past, and create my ideal future.
  • I will find my peace and happiness through seeking truth, wisdom, and love, and not by chasing thrills, wealth, titles, or fame.
  • I will seek to improve myself, my team, and the world every day.”

So there you have it:  two shining examples of personal values that – even though separated by more than 100 years – still ring true.  I challenge you to take some time, and take a stand.


Mackay’s Moral:  If you live by a great value system, your life will have great value.

A successful person is an average person, focused

I love golf – both playing and watching the pros – so you can imagine my delight when my wife Carol Ann surprised me for my birthday with a trip to watch the Ryder Cup in Glasgow, Scotland, in late September.  What a memorable experience, one that’s been on my bucket list for a long time.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been a USA team victory!

Along with the spectacular scenery and outstanding golf, the thing that struck me most was the focus of all the players.

It’s easy to have focus when everything is going well, but great athletes keep their focus when they are staring at defeat.  A sure way to fail is to lose focus.

rydercupI remember when my close friend Lou Holtz was asked to speak to the American team at the 2008 Ryder Cup by then-captain Paul Azinger.  Holtz told the players to remember the word WIN.  WIN stands for What’s Important Now?

Holtz told them to evaluate the past but focus on the future.  If you just made a bogey, what’s important now?  Your next tee shot.   If you make a birdie, what’s important now?  Your next tee shot.  You play one shot at a time and stay focused.

He finished by telling the players to enjoy the competition … enjoy what you are doing, but stay focused.  That team won, the last time the U.S. team brought home the Ryder Cup.

I watched Holtz do the same with all of his football teams at Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina.  As Holtz said, think only about the next play or point, not what just happened.  You can only focus on what will happen next.  Don’t look back.  Don’t complain.  If you maintain your focus on the future, anything can happen.

Years ago when I played golf for the University of Minnesota, my coach, Les Bolstad, drove home the point about focus.  I remember practicing and getting ready for the NCAA Golf Championship Tournament at Purdue University.  Les told me to focus on each shot as if it was going to be my last.  I would say to myself, “This is the last drive I’m ever going to hit, so it better be good.  This is the last putt that I’m ever going to make, and so on.”

I’ve carried that philosophy through to my work life.  “This is the last speech I’m ever going to give, so it better be good.  This is the last book I’m ever going to write … This is the last acquisition I’m ever going to make …. ”

It takes that kind of focus to succeed.  I’m convinced that one of the top reasons that keeps people from getting what they want is lack of focus.  People who focus on what they want to achieve, prosper.  Those who don’t, struggle.

Forbes Magazine recently did a story on the nine habits of productive people.  One of them was on focus, specifically using your morning to focus on yourself.  The article stated that:

It’s a big productivity killer to start your mornings by checking your email and your calendar. This allows others to dictate what you accomplish.  Start your day out right by ignoring your emails and having a good breakfast, reading the news, meditating, or working out.  This will ensure you’ve got the necessary fuel for a productive day.

I couldn’t agree more.  I make my to-do list every morning by working backwards:  What do I need to accomplish by the end of the day?  By the end of the week?  The end of the month?  That tells me where to focus.

Is your work team focused on the right goals?  The Change Management website offers this simple test:  Ask everyone in your group what the organization’s mission is, how it affects their jobs, and how they contribute to it.

If a significant percentage can’t provide a persuasive answer, you need to either communicate your mission more consistently and effectively, or change it so people understand their roles better.  A business can’t succeed without a common focus.

A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question.  “I’d like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts.  In addition to learning from you, I’d like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style.  What do you think of this idea?”

The master answered, “The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither one.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Stay focused on one thing.  Trying to get everything will get you nothing.