Leading Forward: How Megastar Leaders Demonstrate Accountability
One of the leading concerns among executives is accountability from leaders and employees. Accountability in leadership is vital to business success, but many leadership teams acknowledge that they have a lot of room to grow in this area. Blame doesn’t solve problems and only creates a negative culture within a company. So how do leaders lead forward and demonstrate accountability within their organization?
Accountability is the act of taking responsibility for the results of your work, regardless of whether it’s successful.
Taking responsibility can be frightening, especially for new leaders. But it beats the alternative which is having it forced upon you. Until you take responsibility, you are nothing more than a martyr. And a martyr is the opposite of a leader. And because accountability helps with practicing honesty, accountability as a leader can benefit their relationship with their team members. Learning more about accountable leadership can help you become a better leader regardless of where you work.
Leadership accountability is at the heart of any organization’s ability to achieve optimal performance.
When leaders take personal accountability, they are willing to answer for the outcomes of their choices, their behaviors, and their actions in all situations in which they are involved. Accountable leaders do not blame others when things go topsy-turvy. Rather, they make things right — they are fixers. Accountable leaders question the decisions and processes that shape your organization. They ask questions and they find answers — the best answers.
Accountability is what ultimately differentiates great leaders from mediocre ones. Furthermore, five behaviors set truly accountable leaders apart from the rest.
At a time when we continue to experience accelerated change, increased complexities, growing pressures, and competing priorities, leaders set the tone in their companies and establish the culture by how they treat others and by how they live their values. Yet many organizations miss opportunities to demonstrate leadership accountability. In this article, I review what accountable leadership is, including how it can benefit you and how you can practice accountable leadership in your workplace.
Accountability Tip #1: Establish Clear Goals and Targets
Having unclear goals, unclear targets, is a sure-fire way of creating confusion and frustration among your team. It’s impossible to have leadership accountability and develop a culture of accountability if you don’t know what you need to be accountable for. If you want your team members to be successful, then you must set clear goals and targets.
Clear goals are measurable and meaningful, and they paint a clear vision for your team.
The SMART goal method is not a new one, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. Take the time to see that the goals you have given your team are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. If they are not, then it’s time to go back and work on making them transparent. Accountable leaders set goals that align with the business’s priorities. This gives them personal accountability over driving business results. They also foster that same sense of ownership among their direct reports. Having clear goals for themselves and their teams makes measuring accountability much easier to do.
Accountability needs defined expectations.
When setting KPIs or other measurable company goals, it’s important for team members to know what’s expected of them. One of the best ways leaders can encourage employees’ sense of ownership and accountability is to set clear guidelines for success. Without defined deadlines and expectations, there can be no accountability because people don’t know what they’re supposed to be achieving. As a result, strategic implementation falls to the wayside.
True clarity includes what the goal is and who completes the goal.
One action you can take to improve the accountability of your actions is by clarifying goals within a project. Establishing clear goals and the paths to those goals helps make it easier to become accountable for different tasks. Continued transparency concerning everything about a goal can help you and other employees become accountable. That said, if you want to allocate tasks to individual employees, understanding the employees’ capabilities and what they currently have as objectives can help you both remain accountable for work. Understanding their preferences concerning work can also help you allocate tasks more effectively and find employees who may complete the task sooner.
Let people know what success looks like for them in their role.
Then, if mistakes get made, you can discuss the problem and solution, while avoiding any discussion on the murky/unclear expectation (that may have contributed to the problem). The clearer you are, the more successful those around you will be. The best organizations have ongoing performance-based conversations. There are no surprises to an individual’s performance because they know where they’re doing well, and they understand how they can do better. This level of candor, over time, creates safety and trust between two individuals who depend upon each other for success.
Accountability Tip #2: Communicate About Everything
Demonstrating accountability and ensuring it in others also involves sharing information and knowledge that will help others know how to behave in certain scenarios. Individuals learn by watching others and practicing desired behaviors, but they also learn from the advice and guidance of others who are already achieving gold standard accountability. For those who manage others, it is also important to communicate the importance of results, so that effort does not get confused with outcomes.
Communication is critical to leadership accountability.
Accountable leaders are transparent with their employees. They take responsibility for their actions and those of their team, and they use communication effectively to stay in the loop and pinpoint potential problems. Set expectations for communication norms so that employees know when and how to contact their colleagues and supervisors. Maintain regular communication to anticipate and remove roadblocks to high performance.
When you are a leader, there is almost always a communication gap between you and your employees.
This is entirely due to the lack of confidence of your employees in you. People are reluctant to be honest about what they feel as they have a fear of adverse consequences. That’s why you must encourage transparency in your organization. Start by telling your team about your constraints as a leader. Tell them about your motivations, inspirations and goals. This helps bring an openness in the work environment and induces positive vibe in the workforce. When the team believes that they share the same goals as you, they are more likely to be open about their honest opinions, feedback and concerns.
To help accountability throughout the organization, help improve the method of communication you use.
If you have a chat room for events outside of meetings, consider organizing rooms by topic or employee type. If you don’t have a chat room, consider using one to help give employees opportunities to both learn and consult others concerning parts of a project. Besides giving employees more options for communication, consider encouraging open communication as much as possible as a leader. Open communication can help gather and give feedback between employees concerning accountability.
Creating opportunities for feedback in your team is an excellent way to understand where communication is failing and how that can be improved.
Leaders of remote teams need to consider what is the most effective medium for communication. Any technology tools needs to support accountability, help monitor the focus areas and tasks as a means of ensuring alignment. Building trust in this environment requires intentionally focusing on creating opportunities for your team to have a shared experience, get to know each other and build a sense of camaraderie and teamwork.
Accountability Tip #3: Own Your Leadership
In terms of accountability in leadership, we must first be accountable for our own actions. Self-accountability dictates that leaders make sure they set high standards for themselves and map out on paper how they will get there. If you want your team to be accountable for their actions then we must first be accountable for our own actions.
Take responsibility for mistakes. If you make a mistake, own it and make amends as soon as possible.
If you take responsibility for something going wrong, your team will see that as an indication that you can be honest and learn from your mistakes. You haven’t given up on trying to improve. No one is perfect — not even the greatest leaders in the world. Leaders cannot allow the fear of failure to stop them from acting and making decisions. That said, a certain amount of thought and planning should occur during the process. However, this process should not become drawn out or riddled with indecisiveness and second-guessing. Good leaders feel confident in their expertise, insight and experience.
Ownership means taking responsibility for a job or task assigned, regardless of the outcome.
Accountable leaders feel a sense of duty, pride, and personal ownership to the people they serve. During a TEDx Talk, leadership development expert, retired Navy SEAL and best-selling author Jocko Willink says leaders must model and teach extreme ownership. “When a team takes ownership of its problems, the problems get solved. Don’t make excuses, don’t blame any other person or any other thing. Take ownership of everything in your world. The good and the bad,” he says when defining ownership.
A way of remaining accountable for everything you do as a manager or leader in your work is by accepting both the mistakes and the successes.
Accepting both good and bad performance from yourself equally helps employees see your work in an honest context. If you only accept mistakes you make, employees may think the publicity of the statements is disingenuous or that you don’t give yourself credit for your accomplishments. Accepting equal responsibility for your actions displays great accountability to your employees and can help promote fairness and overall accountability within your department.
Accountable leaders do not avoid responsibility, they do not procrastinate, and they do not under or over commit.
They know when to say no and they know when to ask for more. Before agreeing to new tasks, new deliverables, new to-do’s, they review their schedules and know whether they have the physical time required to complete the work on time and with quality. If unsure about whether they can commit, they say no to the task and yes to the person asking for the commitment. In this way, accountable leaders provide their own insurance that they won’t let promised work go undone.
Accountability Tip #4: Smart Optimism
Another behavior that accountable leaders consistently demonstrate is their ability to express optimism about the company and the future. Leaders viewed as unaccountable seem to merely go through the motions in their day-to-day work without personal investment. They may appear disengaged or unenthusiastic, which undermines the company’s ability to engage employees fully. If leaders are not excited about what you are trying to do as a company, then your employees will never be. Many employees who work remotely can feel isolated and disconnected in the virtual world, so leaders must provide support, positive energy, and a sense of hope for the future.
It can appear impossible to see the bright side when disaster seems imminent or perhaps it has already struck.
However, one trait of leadership accountability is actively expressing a sense of optimism about the company’s present status and future. It does not end there. Leadership must truly believe in the promise of better times. People’s brains are fine-tuned to detect a lack of authenticity. Employees will pick up on pretenses and it will alert them that something is off, fostering a sense of distrust towards leadership. Leaders who are optimists have the ability to envision a better future and they are able to inspire and motivate people to work toward achieving that shared vision of success.
Optimism is defined as a tendency to expect positive outcomes.
This means that even when bad things happen, optimistic leaders look beyond the events in front of them and focus on the actions they can take to get themselves and their business beyond the current crisis. Optimistic leaders are better able to help their organizations respond and adapt to changing circumstances, especially where the need for change was imposed from outside. They tend to more accurately identify causes of success and failure, and correctly assign responsibility for both. So optimism enhances problem solving, decision making and action taking, creating a constructive strategy to get out of difficulty and deliver business recovery.
Optimists want to solve problems and improve the situation they are in.
They will always focus on finding a solution rather than analyzing the issues surrounding the problem. The solution-based approach that an optimist leader uses promotes creativity and innovative thinking. An optimist is quite comfortable thinking outside of the square; in fact that is where they are their happiest. The key questions an optimistic leader will ask when seeking a solution are: What is needed? (Not; what is wrong?). What it going well? (Not: what is going badly?). What practical progress can be made to work toward implementing the solution?
Optimists do better than pessimists because their coping strategies are better. They are more resilient and able to quickly bounce back from failure and setbacks in life.
An optimist is a risk–taker and is comfortable making tough decisions. They accept the reality of failure and the possibility of making mistakes. An optimist will view failure or mistakes as an opportunity to learn and to make progress. They see failure and set backs in the workplace as a part of life. An optimistic leader is quick to respond and adapt to the situation at hand. They will want to get their teams moving forward and back on track as quickly as possible. Optimistic leaders aren’t necessarily the perkiest people in the room — they aren’t going to gloss over issues or sweep them under the rug. But they exhibit a different way of thinking about work (and executing it) to make their teams the best they can be.
Accountability Tip #5: Tackle Tough Issues
Being a leader isn’t easy. There is considerable hard work, as well as tough people issues and many difficult decisions to tackle. Unfortunately, many mediocre leaders avoid the hard work, and that undermines their leadership and accountability. What they do not realize is they pay a price. When leaders avoid the hard work, they become weak. But when they have the courage to tackle the hard work, they become strong. Accountable leaders understand and ensure they have the resilience, determination, and deep sense of personal resolve they need to be effective.
Too many leaders avoid making tough calls.
In an effort not to upset others or lose status in the eyes of their followers, they concoct sophisticated justifications for putting off difficult decisions, and the delay often does far more damage than whatever fallout they were trying to avoid. In fact, hard decisions often get more complicated when they’re deferred. And as a leader gets more senior, the need to make hard calls only intensifies. Leadership is mentally and emotionally demanding. Not only will you need to temper your emotions to keep your team inspired, you’ll also be the point person for almost every hard decision your business makes.
The paradox of choice is a perplexing case of human psychology.
The more options you have to consider, the harder it is to make a choice- — and the less satisfied you are with that choice once you make it. You can compensate for this by limiting the number of options you have to choose from, and the number of variables you consider when choosing between them. For example, you could narrow your choice down to two vendors, and decide to make your decision based on cost only, or only on the quality of the working relationship. You can also reduce decision fatigue by spending less time on small-scale decisions. Build habits that are repeatable, and let other people (like your assistants or coworkers) decide things that don’t have much impact on you or your business.
Think about it: Decisions are the precursors to actions.
These actions bring strategies, innovations, programs, and everything else in an organization to life. Everything we do in an organization and in our roles is either based on a decision. Everything we want to do is dependent upon decisions. The best leaders work hard at strengthening their effectiveness and the effectiveness of their teams and colleagues as decision-makers. And if one leader doesn’t make the decision they need to make, their team struggles. One leader who refuses to make a necessary decision can harm a team. When many leaders can’t, don’t, or won’t make the decisions they need to make, the entire company struggles.
In any moment of decision, the best thing is to do the right thing, the next best thing is to do the wrong thing and the worst thing to do is nothing.
A sympathetic leadership approach tries to keep everyone happy and not upset the apple cart, but a leader with a compassionate approach makes decisions that are right for the business. If you focus only on business outcomes you create a fear-based environment that doesn’t work for anyone. But when you focus on compassion plus business outcomes you will create a trust-based environment, which is better for everyone. Always look forward, not back — tough calls and conflict are inevitable in business; don’t second-guess yourself but do learn from the consequences of your decisions so you can make better choices next time.
Accountability occurs when individuals reliably deliver on their commitments, showing others they can be trusted to do what they say they’ll do. As we continue to embrace the unknown in our world, it is clear that leadership accountability will become more important than ever. In fact, it has become a crucial element for future-proofing organizations in times of crisis or drastic change.
Leaders are made of a material that inspires others to work harder. A successful leader is a perfect role model which people can follow.
Keep this in your mind — no one can become a great leader without managing themselves, learning from their failures and preventing themselves from committing the same mistakes. At the end of the day, I’d like to assure you that it’s ok to fail at first. You can’t manage everything. However, what you can do is be responsible and accountable. Lead from the front, be transparent and most importantly, learn from your failures as it’s the most renowned quality of an accountable leader.
It’s this mindset of strength that makes accountability a top leadership quality.
Accountable leaders constantly keep the ball rolling toward improvement and better results. Victims are passive. They are acted upon. Leaders are active. They take initiative to influence the outcome. By showing personal accountability, you’ll grow in integrity and reliability. You will also indicate that you’ll own up to your mistakes, and your coworkers and friends will appreciate that you find a more constructive way to resolve problems that arise.
Being an accountable leader is no easy task. But it is essential in order to be a change agent, in order to bring real value to your organization and to those on your team.
Accountability often gets overlooked, but in fact, it is one of the most valuable traits for leadership to display during uncertain times. Doing so will allow leaders to steer their business through the tidal wave of crisis to dock in a safe harbor. Are you accountable? How have you gone about developing yourself as accountable? What has worked and what hasn’t as you embarked on transforming your leadership to accountable? Tell me in the comments below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.