Accountability Is Bigger Than That

In your next group meeting, ask the team to describe their understanding of accountability.  You will probably get variations of these two definitions.  1.  Do what you say you are going to do, and 2. Own it (the mistake, the goal, the results, etc.).  Both descriptions are great, but very narrow in scope, and if limited to these two descriptions, most people can consider themselves accountable.  But broaden the description of accountability to what they are accountable for, and who they are accountable to, and they start falling off the list of accountable people rather quickly.  Anybody who prides themselves on being the accountability gold standard is basically stating that they have not yet broadened their description yet.

Take for example an accountable leader who does everything they say they are going to do, on time, and with great precision.  Yet their fear leadership tactics is causing a 20% turnover in their department resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to the organization.  All so they can get that fear leader rush.  If the organization has invested in their leadership skills to improve matters yet the leader just doesn’t seem to shift to a better gear, then they are double down unaccountable.  But they still describe themselves as very accountable because they do everything they say they are going to do, and they own everything but themselves.

The accountable behavior list is long.  A few other understandings that may broaden the description of leadership accountability may look like:

  • Transparency: Being more transparent to strengthen trust on the team because the organization benefits from that, even though the leader has traditionally avoided transparency.  Leaders who avoid being a little transparent because it’s uncomfortable may not be accountable.
  • Giving Credit: Not being a know it all so other people get a little credit and develop their sense of self-worth.  Leaders who thrive on taking the credit for the works of another may not accountable.
  • Hearing The Truth: Accountable leaders place as much emphasis on hearing the truth as they do in telling the truth.  Leadership feedback is critical to ones leadership development, so leaders that avoid feedback are not as accountable as they like to take credit for.
  • Decision Making: Missing opportunities because the leader is slow to make decisions.  That’s not accountable.
  • Handling Conflict: Conflict avoidant leaders who are very indirect communicators because it allows them to avoid conflict have room for growth.  Avoiding conflict leads to team members building resentments and damaging relationships.
  • Excessive Rules: Penalizing everybody for the actions of a few by putting rules in place for everybody but meant to keep the lowest performers in line.  Leaders who put rules in place as a substitute for their inability to lead have room for improvement.
  • Adaptability: Not adapting to new technologies critical to communicating and managing remote employees.
  • Risk: Putting the company at risk for the benefit of a personal payoff like having a succession plan or hiding information.
  • Miscommunication: Constantly making negative interpretations of things that were said or done without checking in with people to pursue the truth.  Leaders who are quick to be defensive and think negatively have a negative impact on morale and that may not be accountable.

To be 100% accountable is to suggest perfection in all aspects of life and leadership.  That very notion is not accountable.  If the goal is to improve performance by improving the basis of accountability, then start by broadening the understanding, the definition of accountability itself.  Once leaders understand that they also have room for an accountability improvement, they can get to work instead of pointing fingers at the other person.