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Without accountability, even the most intelligent, hard-working, sincere leaders fail to meet their performance goals, develop their teams, hire top talent, coach their employees, communicate clearly, and optimize performance. Indeed, effective leadership demands genuine accountability.
A leader who takes personal accountability also takes responsibility for the outcomes of their choices, behaviors, and actions in all circumstances. When things go sideways, accountable leaders do not blame others but rather make things right; they are fixers.
Accountable leaders create objectives and an accurate understanding of their organization, where it excels and has opportunities. Then, they step up to advocate opportunities to succeed. Finally, responsible leaders question the decisions and processes that shape their organizations. They ask questions, and they find the best answers.
Accountability goes beyond separate actions and decisions. Accountable leaders accept ownership for their teams’ performances and take responsibility.
Creating accountability is a challenge for most leaders, which is precisely why many organizations plan to invest more resources in helping to build leaders’ accountability. Why? Accountability produces trust within teams, develops respect between leaders and employees, and fosters a sense of fairness that is crucial to an engaged workforce.
Accountability is a leader’s overall commitment to excellence, the mark of a true leader. It is not about the wins but rather about the near wins, the striving, the journey, the promise of getting there and the ongoing self-refinement.
Accountability is why leadership is so complex and why there are few real leaders.
Here are five ways to build high-level accountability in leaders at every tier of your organization:
When people demonstrate accountability via their actions, they set the pace for leadership and performance excellence. They also show co-workers how to be accountable for doing what they say they’ll do.
Training in specific skills and competencies helps leaders understand what it means to be accountable and which behaviors assist them in exhibiting accountability. For example, organizations should have a leadership development program that teaches leaders at all levels how to deliver on commitments and helps them see how important being reliable and trustworthy is in the eyes of others. A leadership development program will also teach managers how to set and communicate expectations and, most important, how to hold their teams accountable for the results to which they have committed.
Sharing information and knowledge is critical to showing accountability as it will help co-workers understand how to behave in certain situations. Of course, people don’t only learn by watching others and practicing liked behaviors. They also learn from the guidance of others already achieving a high level of accountability. For managers, it is essential to communicate the importance of results to ensure that effort does not get confused with outcomes.
At the start of any activity or initiative, people need to understand expectations, the support, and resources available, and what they need to do to be accountable for their role. Knowing where they stand will help them avoid over-committing and under-delivering.
To ensure intention leads to results, people must understand that demonstrating accountability is necessary. For managers, it’s essential to set clear expectations and then make sure that there is a consensus that the obligation is doable, and the goal is attainable. Finally, leaders need to mandate the delivery of the committed plan. It is helpful if they provide support by setting up regular check-ins to review progress, provide timely feedback, and define other aids or support they may need.
Individuals display accountability daily—by delivering on commitments and showing in their behavior that they can be relied on to achieve results. When expectations are clear and people have the proper skills, knowledge, and resources to accomplish them, they are more likely to show greater accountability.
Leaders must establish a culture of accountability to lead responsibly and grow sustainable organizations.
Accountability in leadership comes from the top down. Yes, hiring a leadership team with star qualities is essential, but it is the organization’s responsibility to foster a culture of accountability within its ranks. As President Harry S. Truman said, “The Buck Stops Here!”