Blog Article 

 Importance of Accountability 

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Michael Santos

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  • To Learn the value of following through on commitments.

Learning Content:

  • This lesson introduces us to James Patterson, a business professional. James’s story illustrates the importance of personal development and performing to the best of a person’s ability.

Course Outcome:

  • This lesson will help participants improve their vocabulary.
  • This lesson will help participants develop critical thinking skills.
  • This lesson will help participants develop writing skills.
  • This lesson will help people identify a clear plan to prepare for success upon release.

Lesson Requirements:

  • Watch the 1-hour video that accompanies the lesson.
  • Write a definition for at least ten of the words highlighted in bold and written in italics.
  • Choose ten of the vocabulary words. Use those ten words in three separate sentences.
  • Respond to at least three open-ended questions at the end of the lesson. Write a minimum of three paragraphs, with no less than three sentences in each section.

Learning about Self-Direction from James Patterson:

Today’s interview provides us with the life story of James Patterson. James began preparing for success during childhood. Through disciplined decision making, he advanced his life, becoming a high-level executive of a company that Microsoft acquired. James then went on to become the founder and CEO of other companies.

In Jim’s story, we learn a great deal about perspective and taking incremental action steps that lead to success. Through hard work and perseverance, he created opportunities to thrive.

Every person in prison makes choices on how to adjust. Many people serve their sentences without any direction of how to sow seeds for success. Rather than visualizing opportunities they can open, they take the path of least resistance, adjusting in ways that other people in prison advise.

Prison offers an opportunity to re-envision a positive future, away from the bad choices of the past. Some questions that any participant may consider:

  • What type of future do I imagine for myself?
  • What steps can I take to move closer to the future I imagine?
  • How will the decisions and choices I make today foster future success?

The physical confinement and restrictions of prison can suffocate us. These restrictions can make us feel as if we’re stuck in the mud, miring our mental state. If we don’t learn from leaders like Jim Patterson, we can lose our hope. In some cases, people in jail or prison erect psychological fences that mirror the facility’s physical barriers.

Giving in to the prison mindset can prove detrimental to a person’s future. A bright future exists on the other side of incarceration, provided a person puts in the time and effort required to create opportunity for achievement.  We learn by listening to role models. In their stories, we can find strategies they used to overcome obstacles, or how they made decisions to avoid obstacles. They did not succeed by accident or luck. Rather, they attain goals because of the choices they make. To the extent that we listen and learn, we advance prospects for our success.

In sharing his story, we learned about the incremental steps James took to prepare for success. In the first of three videos that accompany this lesson, James told us that he began building a work ethic as a young boy, taking a paper route when he was only 10. Later, he worked at a supermarket in the meat department as a cashier.

Such entry-level jobs were instrumental to Jim’s eventual rise to become CEO of the companies he founded. He spoke about how those early jobs taught him crucial lessons about responsibility. By working with others, Jim learned the value and importance of holding himself accountable in all areas of his life.

Besides developing a solid work ethic, Jim applied himself in academics. He studied computer science at Vanderbilt University, and he served his country by joining the ROTC. After earning his degree, he served four years with the Air Force, building invaluable skills.

In listening to Jim’s story, we learn that he did not become a CEO overnight. He has a long history of working through roles with increasing levels of responsibility. Any of us can strive to emulate the lessons in leadership that we learn listening to leaders like Jim.

James’s Evolution:

While in elementary school, James began learning about computers. By applying himself, he distinguished himself as a class leader. His teachers selected him to manage the computer lab. In that role, Jim found a passion for all things related to computers. Several times during our interview, I heard James speak about passion. He seemed to love what he did. From his story, I could hear how important it would be for a person to develop strengths—and it’s easier to develop strengths when we’re working on projects we enjoy. Passion, it would seem, serves as a fundamental factor in determining whether we can sustain energy as we work to improve our prospects for success.

  • As the eminent author Mark Twain once remarked, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

In time, James positioned himself to serve leaders in the military. Rather than dawdling free time away, he interned at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California during his college years. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, James began his official tenure with the Air Force. He started around the same time as the 9/11 terrorist attack obliterated the World Trade Center and killed thousands of Americans.    

He didn’t get flustered by his transfer to the Middle East. Instead, James started applying lessons he learned about developing an infrastructure for a communications network. Leaders tasked him with work related to building a small city on a patch of land in the desert of Kuwait. A less disciplined person may have shirked the responsibility of doing all the grunt work associated with building a community from the ground up. Leaders like Jim, on the other hand, follow a pattern. They dig deep into personal reservice and rise to the challenge, doing anything necessary to complete the task.

Together with his team, James built a massive infrastructure that contributed to our military’s ability to execute plans.

People confined in jails or prisons should use the time to build the “infrastructure” of his or her life. While locked in solitary cells, I learned that I develop stronger critical-thinking skills by learning lessons from leaders. They taught me how to think differently, how to plan, how to invest in personal development. The infrastructure of knowledge I built positioned me to seize or create new opportunities later; stories like the one I learned from Jim fortified my spirit, giving me hope in the darkest of days.

Despite the setback of imprisonment, we can choose how we’re going to adjust. Some people adjust negatively, but leaders will always work toward personal development. Like James, we should rise to the challenge, applying skills we’ve worked hard to cultivate over time.

When James arrived in the Middle East, the base was in a nascent stage, providing accommodations for only about 200 people. He worked alongside a team that laid out a signal and communication grid. In less than a year, the base could accommodate more than 15,000 people.

To put himself in a position of trust, Jim had to invest in himself. Clearly, he invested in his education early. It’s self-evident that he performed well in high school, as shown by his acceptance into Vanderbilt University. Without a doubt, he invested in himself during those early summers he spent with the Air Force. By working to develop more skills, Jim showed that he could build more value. Stories like Jim’s inspired me when I served my sentence. They helped me to believe that if I worked hard to become more proficient as a communicator, better opportunities would open.

By going through these lessons on personal leadership, I’m hopeful that you’ll feel inspired to invest in yourself—in the same way as Jim’s examples show.

After a year in Kuwait, the Air Force rewarded James with a post as an executive officer working for a high-level official in the military. James handled all the paperwork and coordinated schedules. James had to deal with the minutiae of running the office to ensure efficiencies. That process likely contributed to his confidence in running organizations as he developed his business career.

James’s steadfast commitment to his service in the Air Force likely contributed to his supervisor’s advancement. His supervisor had been a colonel, but during Jim’s tenure, the military leaders promoted the colonel to role of general. The general kept Jim up close to true leadership, enabling him to see leadership at the highest level. The general likely served in the role of mentor to James. Leaders succeed when they groom team members to reach their highest potential.

Finding Your Path:

Like Jim, each of us should make decisions that will advance our prospects for success. Regardless of where we are at given moment, we can make decisions that will come with opportunity costs. We can choose to give up and claim that opportunities don’t exist. Or we can work to create our own opportunities.   

  • What decisions can you make going forward to set yourself up for post-incarceration success?
  • How are you doing the hard things today to build more value for tomorrow?
  • What steps can you take to persuade mentors to help you advance?
  • In what ways does the interview with James relate to the other lessons in our self-directed learning courses?

Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: 

First by reflection, which is noblest; second by imitation, which is easiest;

and third by experience, which is bitterest.”

Overcoming Obstacles:

In the video, James and I discussed various obstacles the formerly incarcerated face in finding gainful employment, including reticence from employers that do not want to hire people with a criminal record. Some employers disqualify job candidates that cannot pass a background check showing a record free of criminal convictions. To overcome obstacles, a person has to be like James, creating an extraordinary record of service and personal development.

He spoke about the career he developed after leaving the military. By working with startup companies, he could deploy lessons he learned from the structured, organized world of the military—which he described as a complex organization that employed millions of people. As a result of all he learned, when people asked him questions, Jim could respond from a position of strength and confidence. Those skills positioned him for leadership, and they helped him to spot potential in other candidates.

While serving as a leader for Yammer, Jim revealed that he had to develop his team. Typically, he would hire a person with a strong credentials such as an advanced degree in business, or experience as an engineer. On at least one occasion, however, he described hiring a person without a traditional background. The person did not have a university degree, or experience as an engineer. The person’s background as chef intrigued Jim.

Jim understood that high-end restaurants required a high level of structure and order, much like the military. Chef’s must execute at a high level, training teams to deliver perfection to hundreds of potentially temperamental guests that demand excellence. When a chef applied for a job as a project engineer, Jim described the reasons why he chose to make the hire—the candidate had likely invested in himself, making a favorable impression on Jim.

  • In what ways can you use your experience in jail or prison differentiate you from others, making you stand out as a viable candidate for employment?
  • How have you used your time in prison to demonstrate that employers can trust you to perform complex tasks responsibly?
  • Why might employers refrain from hiring a person with a criminal background?
  • In what ways have you worked to overcome resistance from potential employers?

James emphasized the need for good storytelling in creating a company. A company’s ability to raise money for capital to grow highly depends on creating a vision for investors. This concept applies to all companies, big and small. In truth, the concept applies to every individual.

  • What’s your story?
  • How can you re-write your story to influence people to know, like, and trust you?

James spoke about the power of being an entrepreneur. If a person learned how to create a business and an income stream, a person would free himself of the stigma associated with past incarceration. After all, if a person creates a business, the individual does not get filtered out by a discriminatory hiring process. A person may become an entrepreneur through personal development first, then, by following passions. A person should produce something of value and disseminate that value to consumers. James found passion in connecting people with computers and technology.

  • What’s your passion?
  • In what ways are you developing your strengths?
  • How will you monetize your passion?

The Roadmap:

We all have a potential roadmap. That roadmap differs for each of us, depending upon our interests and skill set. Yet all roadmaps should include some core principles:

  • Step 1: Envision.
    • What do you want to accomplish? Make your goals ambitious but realistic. Create certain mile-markers of achievement. 
  • Step 2: Prepare.
    • Much like building a house, a person must create a strong foundation to build a brilliant future. Forget about the past. Build from a clean slate, focusing on what you’re going to create. Prepare for the future you envision. 
  • Step 3: Action.
    • Take action steps showing that you align your goals with the success you’re going to create. Each step should lead closer to the goals, and the goals must align with the vision.
  • Step 4: Perseverance.
    • Expect setbacks but stay the course. Build a record of persistence and commitment. Those efforts yield enormous results, in geometric proportions.
  • Step 5: Accountability.
    • Create metrics to measure progress on a daily basis. As James advised, follow up to get things done. If things go wrong, show the corrective action to get back on track.


In James, we meet someone who understood the value of hard work from a young age. He took on responsibilities and challenges that positioned him for success. He didn’t seek the easy way, as I had done as a young man. On the contrary, the Air Force exposed James to the value of discipline and training. Lessons from his cumulative experiences catapulted James to the highest levels of corporate success.

It’s never too early, and it’s never too late to prepare for success. Employers and customers judge a person on the value a person can provide—but a person must learn to sell strengths, just as the chef that persuaded Jim to extend an opportunity.

As with each lesson, we invite participants to embark upon a journey of personal development. The following questions may prompt next steps.

Self-directed Learning:

  • Choose any three of the following questions. Write a three-paragraph response, with a minimum of three sentences in each paragraph (minimum of nine sentences for each response).
  1. In what ways did James help create his ability to succeed?
  2. How can you emulate James to create your recipe for success?
  3. How can you develop mentors that will influence your prospects for success?
  4. In what ways are you holding yourself accountable?
  5. How would you respond to prospective employer that asked why you’re a worthy candidate?
  6. What unique passion do you possess that might fuel an entrepreneurial venture?
  7. Identify five steps to position yourself for higher levels of success going forward.
  8. Describe three ways that the military improved Jim’s chances for success?
  9. Why does Jim say accountability is crucial for an individual and to an organization?
  10. What lessons did Jim learn from Yammer when the company grew from six employees to more than 500 employees?

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