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Accountable Leaders are in Short Supply Sometimes!

We crave accountable leaders!

High-performing teams depend on agreed standards of accountability, which in simple terms mean responsible behaviours. Accountable leaders make themselves fully accountable for their team’s success or miss. On an individual level, it’s about owning our personal and professional growth.

If accountable leaders promote a sense of trust, employee commitment, and a happy workplace, then what is the implication when leaders lack accountability?

This sounds simple enough, but how does accountable leadership work in practice? And does it work the same way in the public sector as it does in the private sector?

A lack of accountable leaders leads to…

The age-old problem of low trust, team morale, employee engagement, and of course poor performance. The root cause of many of these leadership issues stems from inconsistent or ineffective communication. Accountable leaders communicate meaningfully, and do so through two specific attributes:

  1. Clarity of the message/idea/concept
  2. Clearly defining the outcome (i.e.: what success looks like)

Shedding light in this manner also clarifies priorities, minimizing confusion around what we are being held accountable for (or to).  

Communication designed to connect, really connect, with individuals is equally important within accountable leaders. Career altitudes are set by how well we understand and work within the business’ culture. In other words, our relationship-building skills can amplify or derail our future success.

We see the fallout effects from unaccountable leaders in governments, professional sports teams, and companies alike. It’s swift and visible! Members of parliament vote against their own party, cross the floor to join the opposition party or the public undertakes large demonstrations against a government decision or its inertia. Within a sports team when the captain fails to align players towards a common game strategy. In business, cultures that lack accountable leaders manifest quickly in Glassdoor ratings, demoralized employees, and talent leaving the organization.

So, what skills produce accountable leaders?

The accountable leader playbook

A few vital core skills make up the playbook:

  1. Communication
  2. Take responsibility 
  3. Give constructive feedback
  4. Adopt a “we” mindset
  5. Promote a problem-solving culture
  6. Use meeting times effectively

Looking more closely at the first four core skills.

Communication in this context is about ensuring that decisions are clear, plans align with decisions, and are understandable. Through this clarity, the team knows what they need to do, how they will be measured, and what information is expected of them along the way. Accountable leaders take responsibility when outcomes fall short, deal with non-performing individuals quickly and share successes when the team delivers. 

Responsibility is taking ownership of the decisions we make. Making good decisions is about aligning the who, the what, and the by when with the stakeholders impacted. It is also about reviewing the impact of decisions made and adapting based on what we learn. When these essentials are in place, effective leaders increase their chances of successful outcomes. 

Constructive feedback is an important continuous loop throughout each stage of work. This is because we can always do something better, where the idea of continuous improvement is the epitome of accountable leadership. Keep trying until it is as perfect as it can be. Feedback is not something that should wait until there is a problem – it is most effective when it is iterative. 

Adopting a “we” mindset is aligned with creating trust. With trust, we can build a team where members follow because they feel a sense of shared accountability. A command-and-control style of leadership (sometimes referred to as an authoritarian style) does not generally produce positive outcomes. Leaders need to strive to promote a positive style that “makes” team members feel a sense of responsibility – this is accelerated when leaders refer to “we” instead of “I”. 

Final Thoughts

We crave accountable leaders in all facets of our lives, from public to private. Good leaders, as individuals and team leaders, recognize the importance of accountability. They act to both be accountable and hold their team(s) accountable. An effective leader will never look to blame someone else, they hold themselves fully accountable for the team’s successes and misses. Are you leading by example and adequately holding yourself accountable?

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views on how you promote accountable leadership – as a team leader and an individual. 

Give it a try!

Cartoon Credit: Leo Cullum

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