Unreasonably Accountable – A common trait of the best sales people

I hold myself “unreasonably accountable” for anything that happens to me. I share this not because I feel this makes me better than others. Instead I share this because it’s given me a very positive way to approach challenges that I think can be helpful to others, in general, and sales people specifically. I’ve found that most people who get consistent results in their field, whether it be business, sports, sales, etc., hold themselves to the same standard. I was lucky to have a teacher help me find this trait when I was 16 years old and it has served me well over the years. (More on this later.)

When I describe being unreasonably accountable many think it ridiculous because they hear the word “accountable” and think “responsible”. Webster defines responsible as “liable to be called to account as the primary cause”. If I meant responsible it would mean I cause anything that happens to me. If someone steals my car, I caused that. That is ridiculous. Webster defines accountable as “required to explain actions or decisions to someone” which means I have the privilege of deciding and acting on what happens next. Thus if someone steals my car it’s up to me whether I call the police and insurance company or sulk and don’t do anything to get myself transportation. 

Being unreasonably accountable comes to people in different ways through self-reflection and, sometimes, a good kick in the pants. How did I develop this trait at age 16? My dad died when I was 10 and I spent subsequent years feeling sorry for myself. My grades went from A’s to C’s and I was perpetually mad at the world. The two things that made me forget about my situation were sports and music. I played football, wrestled, ran track and martial arts. At age 15, I had a 36-inch vertical leap, benched 255, was fast and could stop on a dime. I had also started playing guitar but athletics was the path to cool at my high school and as a small, Chinese kid, I needed help being cool. Sports became a primary focus.

During football practice, my sophomore year, I took a hand-off, gained a few yards, got tackled and our middle linebacker fell on my left knee. My ACL was severed meaning knee reconstruction and over a year of rehabilitation. The doctors told me to take up golf or swimming because “you’ll never be as fast and if you injure it again we won’t be able to fix it.” There were complications and a second surgery a year later, which meant no more sports for the rest of high school. Yet another excuse to feel sorry for myself but I had a fortunate turn of events.

I had a great social studies teacher, Helen Mason, who saw that I had fallen into a funk. She was a person who said it like it was. She held me after class one day and said, “Look Mister, you can’t change what’s already happened but you control what happens next. So what, if you can’t play football. You’re too small anyway and, let me tell you, football doesn’t make you as cool as you guys think.” She went on to say she had heard me play guitar and had a lot of other things I could focus on rather than feeling sorry for myself. She also said, “Nobody else will care if you don’t.” The kick in the pants I needed.

That kick helped me self-reflect and realize that I had to get busy pursuing other things and I had a team to help me. I had my mother, aunts, uncles, friends and teachers, who wanted to help, but they couldn’t until I wanted the help. What happened next was totally up to me. Over many years that realization has turned into what I now call being unreasonably accountable and as I said earlier, sales people who consistently create great results, have this foundational trait.

​Incredibly successful sales people quickly find other paths when the unexpected blocker happens. They don’t look for someone to blame and they don’t look for excuses. They treat setbacks as lessons rather than losses. The only reason they look back is to understand what happened and why, so they avoid the same mistakes. From those lessons, they determine the best next actions, who else needs to help and how to get the win.

Being unreasonably accountable puts the problem squarely on my shoulders and doesn’t allow me to think what others should or could have done. It forces me to default to the questions “what could I have done differently and what do I do next?” I more quickly think through the problem and take actions that are within my control. Incredibly successful sales people, I’ve had the privilege of working with, don’t waste any time trying to assign blame, even when it’s easy to do and might even be justified. Instead, they jump into action to change the course towards a win.

Being unreasonably accountable has served me well over my 30+ years of selling and you might be practicing it already. I’m positive it can be a great tool for you.

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities™ LLC


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