Don't Be Afraid of Accountability

Recently, a friend of mine was telling me a story of how she is teaching her daughter to be accountable for her actions, and I thought, “What a novel idea. Why don’t we all do that?"

It made me think of a previous job that I had. I had a boss who was very big on hierarchy and could be described as “old school.” I had a team that I was transitioning to a new vision to which they were not accustomed. I was bubbling with excitement for this new vision and was even more excited to share it with my boss.

I had a meeting set up for later in the day, and as soon as the meeting with him started, he kept looking at the clock to see the time. I asked if we should reschedule, which he declined, but it was extremely awkward watching him stare the clock while I was trying to explain this new vision. I then started speaking faster and faster to get out of there, and I said something along the lines of “Now we can keep all of us accountable. You can keep me accountable. I can keep you accountable.”

He immediately stopped me and proceeded to yell at me - “You report to me – I am not accountable to you. Who the hell do you think you are?” Evidently, the meeting did not go as planned. I then apologized, but he kept going on his tirade.

I am not sure if it was his inappropriate yelling or his absolute hate for the word accountability, but I lost my respect for him that day. I couldn’t stop thinking about how he believed that a leader shouldn’t be accountable. He was wrong. Regardless of your title as director or manager or whatever, you should be accountable to the people you manage. Accountability is not a bad word. It’s something that should be celebrated. By the same token, I have had amazing leaders who valued accountability and created a culture for it. These are the best practices I have seen around accountability:

  1. Putting away personal pride. It doesn’t matter what your title is. Admit your mistakes and be honest with yourself and your team. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to work for someone who is authentic and genuine as a leader.
  2. Using creativity to deal with issues. I had an excellent manager who would take any issue or problem that we had and try to get us to come up with a creative solution. So even when we messed up, it was still fun to come up with a solution. It was just part of the process.
  3. Celebrating accountability and not being risk adverse. It’s ok to fail because failure teaches you what to change next time. We should be celebrating the learning process.
  4. Not hiding behind your team. I see this often where people love taking credit for good things and when it comes a negative, it suddenly becomes “we” or “they” and blaming the team.
  5. Correcting the issue. When you own a problem – guess what? You can fix it. When you hide from the problem, it just lingers and gets bigger.

Accountability is demanding especially if you are in an organization that makes decisions by consensus. But think about how that is hurting the team when you are too scared to make decisions, and we need to have everyone on board. What kind of organization are we building when we are too afraid to take responsibility for our actions? Being a good leader means taking accountability and not being afraid of it.

Does your organization have leaders who hold themselves accountable? What do you do to cultivate that culture? Of the five listed above, how can you improve? Where can you help others?

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