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Confident leaders build accountable organizations

One leader ignores the signs that he has a weak team, does nothing to prepare the team on how to effectively handle complex projects, over promised on the team’s capabilities to the board of directors and the executive leadership team then blames the team members for lower than expected performance.

Another leader does not take the time to set and communicate clear goals or ensure timely status updates and follow ups thus giving division leaders permission to focus on their own personal project preferences, then during the year-end performance review penalizes the division leaders and their staff for delivering ineffective results.

These are just two of many examples I can list where we as leaders knowingly or unknowingly compromise our personal accountability and the credibility of our team and the organization. Successful teams cannot exist without accountability and … high performance and accountability go hand-in-hand. Leading an accountable organization starts with our level of personal responsibility.

The blame game is not new … we have been playing it since the dawn of creation. As leaders, our ability to accept responsibility is a measure of our character and maturity. From a psychological perspective, blaming others for our shortcomings and mistakes is a common way we avoid facing the truth about ourselves.

You would think we should have learned by now that “blaming others” is a waste of time. Regardless of how much fault we find, it will not change us. The only thing blame does is keep the focus off us when we are looking for external reasons to explain our frustrations and failures. While we may succeed in making another feel guilty … we won’t succeed in fixing the real issue.

Don’t even think about disclaiming responsibility by saying “we didn’t know.” While the truth may be hard to face, hiding from it does not make it go away. In fact, until we are willing to admit our mistakes we will keep on experiencing the problems and continue to fix the blame on others.

Without accountability, our teams will work on the wrong things and feel like they lack direction and purpose. When we demonstrate accountability, our team will keep their eyes on the goals and keep distraction to a minimum in order to achieve great results.

On the flip side, we need to be careful that our teams do not perceive accountability as a punitive response to something going wrong. I remember being in a monthly business review meeting where there were about 20 executives seated around a table discussing the organization’s learning strategy and investment options for the remainder of the year and into the next. After we reached an agreement, the CEO looked right at the leadership team and said. “I’m going to hold you all accountable for what we discussed and that you provide the necessary support to the learning and development team to ensure their success.” Uh oh … now there were expectations. Around the table you could see a myriad of expressions … stress … fear … pressure and even threat. It was clear that the tone of the meeting was changed as some leaders started to search for and present rationale why their support was contingent on other factors … sometimes even predicting failure before we got the efforts off the ground.

I understood the behavior … you see, this type of negative reaction to being held accountable for a broad based initiative was earned. Most of the leaders in the room could share personal experiences where the words “you are accountable” turned out to be punitive … aka … a punishment for not doing something.  A common response … the blame game that pops up when something goes wrong.

The Webster’s dictionary defines accountability as … “the quality or state of being accountable; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.” Characteristics of an accountable organization include trust, support and a dedication to excellence. Where there is accountability people feel supported during the most difficult times … whether it is dealing with a work-related situation or a personal challenge.

When you evaluate successful teams and organizations, they front-load accountability into their strategy.  This practice is known to set the tone for better relationships, eliminate surprises and greatly improve job satisfaction and performance.

As a first step to strengthening your accountability muscle go out to your customers, suppliers, colleagues, your team members and ask them … “how am I doing?” Allow them to hold you accountable in their eyes for your commitments. When you have done this share your experience with me. What is your definition of accountability? How are you honoring your commitments?

To your continued success!

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