7 Truths About Accountability Every Leader Needs To Know

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Having worked with hundreds of businesses, senior executives, and management teams, I have found that the one topic that is always difficult to broach is accountability. Many people don't understand what accountability is, why it's important, or where it starts. They may understand that accountability is important, but not know how to create a culture of accountability.

Here are seven truths about accountability, which will help you better understand and increase accountability levels in your organization.

1 – Accountability starts with you

Leadership defines culture. If you want to create a culture of accountability, it starts with you. You need to model the behaviors that you want to see in your organization. If you want people to take ownership, you have to be seen to take ownership. When you make commitments, you have to be seen to meet those commitments. If you don't, why should anyone else be interested in doing so? You have to walk the talk if you want others to follow you down the accountability path.

2 – You are Accountable

As the leader, you are accountable. You're accountable for any failures, as well as any successes that your organization may have. Accountability comes as part of the job description, which is why if you try to duck it, it will have a negative impact on the levels of accountability that already exist.

3 – Accountability is not a one-time thing

Accountability is not a one-time thing; it's an all-time thing. Those people who don't want to be held accountable are always looking for any opportunities to get out of it. Any slips or gaps in your accountability will give them the out they need to only be accountable when they see fit.

You need to be seen as accountable at all times.

4 – Accountability applies to one and all

When you're looking to hold people accountable you cannot play favorites. Accountability has to be consistently requested of everyone, all the time. If you choose to let one person slide, it opens the door for others to be selectively accountable too.

5 – Accountability cannot be delegated

You cannot delegate accountability. Accountability is something that has to be accepted for that person to feel accountable and to have them take ownership. The best way to get people to accept accountability is to set them up to be successful. No one is going to take ownership and show accountability for something that they believe is going to fail.

If you want people to accept accountability, ask them if they have everything they need to be successful. When they say yes, they have taken a big step towards accepting accountability. If they say no, you need to make sure you provide whatever is missing. Without it, they will likely never accept accountability.

6 – Accountability is the difference between success and failure

When people don't feel ownership and things start to go awry, they go into spectator mode and watch as things fail. If they thought it would fail from the outset, it's even worse. They go into “I told you so” mode, which nearly always becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When people take ownership and things start to go wrong, they step into solution mode. They try to figure out what's going wrong and fix it. Teams that are successful are full of people that go into solution mode.

In my experience, accountability is the single biggest differentiator between successful and unsuccessful teams.

7 – You have to hold people Accountable

You can't just tell people they're accountable, and then leave them to it. Yes, it may work for some, but not for all. You need to set up review sessions; you have to check in and see how people are doing. This serves three purposes:

  • It lets them know that they will be held accountable for the activities
  • It gives you an opportunity to provide support in case things start to go awry
  • It offers you the opportunity to offer praise and encouragement to move people further if things are going well

Accountability is something that has to be worked on. There has to be a clear and consistent strategy for how it's going to be implemented and validated.

It starts with you and it has to apply at all times and to everyone.

When you can do that, it will help you create a culture of accountability. Your organization can hold itself and others accountable, which will have a massive impact on performance and results.