How to Inject Accountability

Why it's the leadership team’s job to hold each other accountable. And why it matters.

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One of the big challenges I hear from leaders all the time is, “I can’t seem to find a way to hold my team accountable.” However, it’s not solely the job of the CEO to hold the leadership team accountable. It’s a leadership team’s job to hold each other accountable.

Leaders on a Breakthrough Leadership Team are willing to be held accountable to the commitments they make and are willing to hold others on the team accountable as well. If the head of sales didn’t meet his goals, you don’t sit around waiting for the leader to scold the head of sales. As a member of the team, you have the right to say, “We were counting on you, Sales. You committed, and you didn’t come through. What can we do to prevent this in the future?”

Without true accountability, discipline dies. Lack of accountability has a devastating impact on an organization.

First, lack of accountability breeds frustration throughout the organization as team members learn they can’t rely on each other. This has a dramatic impact on morale and trust within the organization, bringing productivity down and making it harder to recruit A-players.

Second, and most importantly, lack of accountability leads to stagnation. As the frustration grows, people give up and stop making commitments. They say things like, “Priorities are just changing too fast for me to make a commitment,” or “Why should I care if I miss a deadline if no one is going to follow up anyway?” This is a death toll for a growing organization.

There are many reasons for this challenge, but the first is that most organizations don’t really know the difference between accountability and responsibility. Here are some key distinctions.

  • Responsibility—The job of the person responsible is to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. Responsibility can be assigned to one person or a group of people. It’s perfectly accurate to say something like, “We’re all responsible for customer service in this organization.”
  • Accountability—Accountability is always and only one person. The person accountable owns the result, but they’re not necessarily the person doing the work. While they can’t delegate their accountability away, they can absolutely delegate responsibility. The person accountable needs to ensure there’s a plan, and they need to ensure the right measures are in place to gauge success or failure.

The CEO of one of my clients consistently complained to me that his team was not following through on their commitments. However, when I asked if he had followed through on a few things he had committed to, he gave me a list of excuses. It’s not surprising that his leadership team followed his example.

The CEO and the leadership team need to set the tone. They need to be willing to hold themselves accountable by honoring commitments and owning up when they haven’t. If they provide a poor example of accountability, the rest of the organization will follow their lead.

A culture of accountability is about clarity. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

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