As any coach will tell you, it takes various ingredients to create the recipe for a great athlete and team. We have seen this evident through the winding and uncertain roads of the March Madness journey this year. Some teams have the right ingredients, with a sprinkle of some bad luck. But what are some of those specific ingredients that help players and teams succeed? While it is usually evident that conditioning, discipline and communication are all necessities for athletes and teams to thrive, there is also a secret ingredient that can influence the flavor of success for these teams. President Harry Truman, a Missouri native, had a sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here.” In the current climate of political dysfunction and finger-pointing, this assertion by a president of almost 70 years ago is quite refreshing. While the origin of this statement can be traced to the art of poker playing, it also has true meaning for how to personally incorporate that secret ingredient into your life: personal accountability. Kevin Eastman, a former NCAA Division I head coach and current assistant with the Boston Celtics, provides useful insight into the behaviors of the accountable athlete. Athlete or not, we could all likely benefit from his perspectives on the matter. According to Eastman, one of the hallmarks of accountability is not blaming others, but instead looking inward to what you did or did not do to contribute to the situation. Complaining and procrastinating also impede one’s ability to act with an accountable spirit. As Truman was an avid poker player, it’s no coincidence that he selected a phrase that had accountability meaning in poker-playing roots. Prior to introducing dealers to the game of poker, players would deal their own cards, which ramped up the chances of cheating. A knife was traditionally used to indicate which player’s turn it was to deal, and this knife was usually made of buck antler. Having the buck knife in front of you meant that you were accountable to deal the cards fairly, and hopefully, without cheating. One can suspect that in saloons and gambling halls of the mid-nineteenth century, there were no shortages of cheating incidents and gun-slinging shoot-outs. “Passing the buck” in a poker game meant that you were off the hook for dealing and arousing suspicion from fellow game players, which was a welcomed option for many players. Identifying ways to avoid passing the buck, so to speak, allows us to all examine our patterns of accountability in life. Are you a self-starter? Do you ask or identify what needs to be done, and then go about doing it? Eastman defines these qualities as essential to personal accountability. Accountability ranks high on the list of qualities that I encourage in my students and clients. “Collective responsibility,” as Eastman states, is key to winning and the success of a team because it requires everyone to not only know their role and responsibilities, but to actively fulfill these responsibilities on a consistent basis. The consistency of individual responsibility within a team feeds the growth and success of the team. Individual and collective responsibility is not limited to athletic teams, but is also crucial to families and work settings. Assuming ownership for one’s choices and actions — what does this mean exactly? Recognizing our own contribution to decisions and outcomes, as well as what we could do differently, promotes healthy accountability. Finally, here are some steps that you can take to increase your personal accountability in any setting: Admit to your mistakes. I have yet to meet a person (including myself) who has never made a mistake. Ask for the things you need to get something done. Do you need extra coaching, information or resources to individually perform or contribute? Ask yourself “What more can I do to help?” Take note of your opportunities to contribute to the collective responsibility of your group, family or team. Welcome feedback. Feedback is essential to learning, growing and being accountable for our behaviors and actions. Model accountability for others. Demonstrate personal accountability through teamwork, communication and action. How will you let the buck stop in front of you and just deal the cards? Until next time…be well.
Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker who lives in Platte City with her family. She may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.