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Make yourself accountable: when it comes to building a career, the buck stops with you. Here's hot to reap the rewards by taking responsibility.

AN AFRICAN AMERICAN FEMALE MANAGER IS PROMOTED TO head a business unit at a large corporation. Over the past three years, she has proven herself to be an excellent candidate, possessing all the technical qualifications necessary for the post. But her employees resent the appointment. They feel that the job should have gone to a white male, long rumored to be next in line for the position.

The employees begin to sabotage her efforts. A small faction of managers in her unit spread rumors that her appointment was a classic case of reverse discrimination. Department productivity and morale take a plunge.

Not surprising, the manager is called in by her superiors and told she has three months to reverse the situation. It doesn't happen. The company vice president then informs her that "things aren't working out" and offers her a lateral move--a position with less prestige and responsibility. Instead of accepting a job she views as a demotion, the manager resigns.

This woman was faced with what, for some, would be insurmountable odds. She suffered unfair treatment and discrimination. But could she have prevented her failure? It's easy to place blame elsewhere, but how different would things have been if she had been more accountable for her own success?

WHOSE FAULT IS IT, ANYWAY?

It is no secret that racism and sexism exist in the workplace. Despite the fact that many organizations are now addressing diversity, company initiatives are not strong enough salves for the wounds caused by decades of social inequality in the workplace. But you can't expect your company to do everything. You have to hold yourself accountable for your future.

"Personal accountability is the willingness to claim 100% ownership for the results produced as a consequence of your involvement, both individually and collectively, with others in your workplace," says William A. Guillory, CEO and founder of Innovation International Inc., a management consulting firm in Salt Lake City. "The lack of empowerment for African Americans is partly discrimination, but the other part is preparing ourselves," he adds. "Ask yourself, `If discrimination disappears tomorrow, am I still prepared?'"

Although the manager was capable of handling the position from a technical standpoint, she had limited skills and experience in managing people--as do most women and minorities who are moving up the corporate ladder.

The company said it would "treat her equally"--and that's where the problem began, Guillory explains. Under the rules of diversity management, people shouldn't be treated alike, but as individuals. The manager was not equipped to handle her new role without proper skills and support. The company should have recognized the manager's unique circumstances and put the proper systems in place, and she should have asked about the support she would receive during her transition. ("How will things be set up to ensure the highest probability of my success?")

Her objective should have been to produce the result required, even though her subordinates didn't want her to. One way to do this would have been to go to her superiors and inform them of the difficulties she was having with her staff. She also should have developed a support network of people to whom she could go to for advice, and built alliances with her superiors.

If she had done all that and had still felt that the level of support offered was not adequate, she could have chosen not to take a job in which she would inevitably fail. If, by resigning, she walked away feeling as though she was set up for failure, then she learned nothing. Her experience was a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, if she learned to assess her strengths and weaknesses, to continuously upgrade her skills, and request the tools needed to work efficiently, then her experience was a success.

QUELL JOB-HOPPING FEARS WITH THE RIGHT APPROACH

You've had five jobs in as many years, and now fear that your kangaroo act has caught up with you. Don't worry; you're not alone. Whether corporate trends, such as downsizing, or career growth opportunities kept you hopping, jumping no longer carries the stigma it once did. Companies are aware that the volatile job market has displaced many people and that workers have found more creative forms of employment. "Contract employment is becoming more prevalent, and the rise of mergers and acquisitions and downsizing has actually made job jumping commonplace," says Julia Hartman, author of Strategic Job Jumping: Fifty Very Smart Tactics for Building Your Career (Prima Publishing). Nonetheless, some employers are on the defensive. Here's how to counter their skepticism:

* Bring up references. Offer references who can vouch for your performance in spite of your short tenure. If you were a productive, results-oriented employee, they'll be able to give tangible examples of your work.

* Show your portfolio. Seeing is believing. Compile awards, sales performance records, and other pertinent documents in a professional-looking binder, and present them during your interview.

* Prove your worth. "If you were hired by all those companies, then you must have had the skills to do the job," says Hartman. In addition, you bring a broader industry perspective and numerous contacts that can benefit the organization.

"The companies most accepting of this are those that embrace change and are not very traditional," says Hartman. "If the firm frowns on this type of strategy, you might not be happy there in the first place."

GO FOR IT!

Sometimes, the dream that you want can't be fulfilled in the confines of an office or the award of a lofty title. For some, the thought of pursuing their dream career, no matter what, is a compelling force. Bailing out from the workday world can be exhilarating--and hair-raising. Throwing caution to the winds and venturing out on one's own can be the start of a fulfilling adventure--and a satisfying new way of life--even in today's volatile economy. Many individuals don't have the time, money, or guts to walk this economic tightrope.

For most, starting a business, spending time with family, teaching, or just taking some time off to regroup would be enough. The problem is that these aspirations often amount to nothing more than dreams deferred: they happen either too late or not at all. But these days, more individuals are taking the risk and rewriting the script so that they can be in charge of the show.

Despite the strong work ethic embraced by many baby boomers, a recent study reflects a definite change in this group's attitude toward work. According to the study presented at the Academy of Management's national meeting in 1997, nearly 40% of the 874 middle-income managers surveyed said they would quit their jobs if they had enough money to live comfortably. A similar study, done in the 1980s, found that only 23% would quit; and back in the 1950s, only 14% said they would opt out.

Today's respondents said that if they could change jobs, they would work for smaller companies or become entrepreneurs, notes Frieda Reitman, a professor emeritus at Pace University in New York, who co-authored the study with Professor Joy Schneer of Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. "Only a small percentage focused on living a life of leisure. It was much more a desire for self-employment and more involvement with the family and community."

STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF

Longer hours, increased responsibility, and little free time have created a legion of stressed-out workers who have no real outlet. Others have found that the grind of a 9-to-5 job no longer offers them all they thought it would.

"It's part of the natural evolution of human beings to want to feel that their work is valuable and that they are making a contribution," says James C. Gonyea, founder and host of the America Online Career Center in New Port Richey, Florida. "As people move higher up in an organization, they become distanced from the people they were intended to serve. They begin to feel unfulfilled."

Another reason some individuals want to change their line of work is their realization that they were in the wrong field to begin with. Many people are not fully aware of their interests, abilities, values, and needs--the elements that make up their personality type. "It is very difficult to identify occupations that are right for you if you're unsure about who you are," states Gonyea. "Unfortunately, the realization that you're in the wrong job doesn't usually come until after you've been there for a while, which, in time, leads some to make a change."

Still others have grown tired of the threat to financial and career security that decades of downsizing have brought. Many have sought refuge in entrepreneurship or family matters. Meanwhile, technology has created new possibilities and careers that were only imagined five years ago, and has opened a door to new vocational possibilities, says Gonyea.

Stress, a major reason for discontent in the workplace, costs employers an estimated $150 billion to $200 billion annually, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, located in Alexandria, Virginia. In response, more companies are recognizing that employees are more productive if they are given a chance to periodically take time off to focus on personal priorities.

As a result, sabbaticals are becoming popular. They allow employees time to reflect on their careers and the overall operation of the business, away from the daily pressures of the office. With a three-, six-, or 12-month leave, employees get a break from job stress, and employers get workers who return refreshed and ready to go.

From the book Black Enterprise Guide to Building Your Career. [c] 2002 by Cassandra Hayes. All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, (Log on to www.blackenterprise.com to order a copy.)

Strike a Balance: Work vs. Personal Life

do you frequently have lunch on the run, or at your desk? Are you "dropping by" the office for a few hours on the weekend? Do family and friends complain that they never see you? Many workers forsake their personal life and, then, shift into overdrive at the office, says Val Arnold, senior vice president of Personnel Decisions, a human resources consulting firm in Minneapolis. Ask yourself the following questions to see if you "have a life." If you don't, then try to reclaim it.

* Are you focused? Does your task contribute to a major organizational or personal goal? If you can't answer these questions, then you're not clear on what projects are important and worth your effort. Take a break and get back on course.

* Does time escape you? You look up at the clock and find that you're late for dinner or your child's school play--again! Your workload is making decisions about your life. Instead, you should be setting the boundaries for your work. Establish clear limits on the amount of time you'll devote to a project, and stay within those limits.

* Do you talk about work 24/7? If your off-hour conversations revolve around the office, you've lost your perspective. There is more to life than work.

* Do responsibilities overwhelm you? You may be at the wrong company or, even worse, in the wrong job.

* Are your relationships fulfilling? Heed the cries of your friends and family when they say they never see you anymore. These are sacrifices you shouldn't have to make.

* Why am I here? Humans are inherently spiritual creatures, yet many of us are so consumed by our jobs that spirituality takes a back seat. Stop, look, and find the soul inside you again.

Spot the Signs

how do you when it's time to make a change? James C. Gonyea offers 10 common road signs to help evaluate your feelings or ongoing situation:

1] Bored and unchallenged

2] Demeaned and dehumanized

3] Given assignments well beyond your capabilities

4] An outcast with no bridge to co-workers

5] Burned out from emotionally exhausting work

6] Seriously and consistently underpaid

7] Extensively overqualified

8] Unrecognized or unrewarded for your labor

9] Expectations, from your boss, that are unrealistic or overly demanding

10] Little room for personal or professional growth

If most of these points apply to you, a change may be in order.

On Becoming a Boss

promotions are great, but they can be difficult when you're faced with managing individuals who are friends. There are ways to make the transition easier. Val Arnold, senior vice president of executive consulting services for Personnel Decisions International, a Minneapolis-based human resources consulting firm, offers some tips for when you go from co-worker to supervisor.

* Realize that authority impacts relationships. Face it, your relationship with your peers will change. Now that you're in charge, be prepared for different expectations and behavior from them. Come to terms with the fact that things will be different.

* Define the new relationship. Ask yourself: What kind of boss do I want to be? How will I treat employees and, in turn, how do I want them to treat me? If this relationship is clear, achieving your goals will be easier.

* Don't take things personally. Everything from envy, anger, and mistrust to overfriendliness may cloud your relationship with your former peers. These reactions have less to do with you than with your new status. Stay focused and continue to maintain harmonious relationships.

* Pull back on the reins. Don't turn into the boss overnight. Discuss with your co-workers the roles they see themselves playing. Listen to what they have to say about their expectations. Doing this will help you spot potential problems early.

* Learn by example. Remember the boss you liked the best? Try to mirror that relationship. Apply those same skills in asserting your authority positively and effectively.

* Seek advice, but do What's best for you. Other managers will tell you everything from "Stay friends" to "Let them know who's boss." Find a management style that works best for your goals, needs, and personality.

How to Improve Your Accountability

* Change your attitude about colleagues and work. Take 100% responsibility for events in your life. Ask yourself, "Am I avoiding responsibility?"

* Learn self-management skills. Managers may be disappearing, but managing is not. Plan, prioritize, execute, and focus on your own work.

* Assess your competency level. Your skills should be consistent with the market. Make sure you're not easily replaceable.

* Accept continuous learning as a way of life. Take advantage of the training programs at your organization. Tapes, books, classes, seminars, and, most of all, a personal and professional mentor, should be mainstays. White males take five times more, and white women take three times more training classes than African Americans.

* Read. Empowerment for High-Performing Organizations by William Guillory and Linda Galindo, and Realizations by William Guillory. Both books are published by Innovations International. To order, call 800-487-3354.

Knowledge is the only key to security. It also gives you the ability to integrate information and create new systems. Learn all you can, process what you've learned, and, then, apply it.

Measure Your Accountability: A Quiz

being more accountable involves giving up some behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes, rather than concentrating on behaving a different way. One of the most common defense mechanisms used to avoid accountability or responsibility is to become upset. Obviously, if you're upset, you can't handle the matter.

Going "unconscious" is another, says. William A. Guillory. "This is done by simply tuning someone out, or by having your own mental conversation while someone is attempting to point out how you could have assumed greater responsibility."

Playing the role of a victim is another way to escape accountability, adds Guillory. Expressions common to the victim are "I can't" and "I'm unable." These statements are really saying, "I am unwilling."

To see how accountable you are, take this test and, then, rate yourself on this scale:

SA--Strongly Agree A--Agree N--Neutral D--Disagree SD--Strongly Disagree

1] I am totally responsible for my success at work.

2] I am exceptionally productive, irrespective of the work environment.

3] I am accountable for the results I produce, even if a situation is unfair.

4] I take training to upgrade my skills and competencies on a regular basis, without having to be told.

5] I am exceptionally skilled at the work I do, as demonstrated by my performance.

6] I trust co-workers (or employees) without interference when I delegate tasks vital to my own success.

7] I have demonstrated exceptional interpersonal skills where mentorship or coaching is concerned.

8] I hold co-workers to their commitments, even when that policy provokes confrontation.

9] I hold others proactively accountable for their commitments, regardless of how that policy may affect our personal relationship.

10] I am willing to work through in-depth personal issues in order to achieve team success.
SA responses x 4.0=
A responses x 3.0=
N responses x 2.0=
D responses x 1.0=
SD responses x 0.0=

Total

Multiply the total by 2.5 to obtain your total percentage of
personal empowerment, based on a scale of 100%.

Total x 2.5= percent


Percentage Score

91-100 Extremely empowered. Your success is ensured. You accept unfairness as something you have to deal with, and you ask, "How do I get beyond this?"

81-90 Very empowered and successful most of the time, except if you are put in an extremely unfair situation.

71-80 Somewhat empowered and probably experiencing success 50% of the time if you are in a fair system.

70 or below Marginally empowered, and your success rate is low. You're aligned with people who have long conversations about how racist society is, and how, if it weren't racist, they would be successful.

[Average score is 77%.]
COPYRIGHT 2002 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:'Black Enterprise Guide to Building Your Career'
Author:Hayes, Cassandra
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Excerpt
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Words:2930
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