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The importance of accountability

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An organisation is only ever as good as its people. In order for teams to truly thrive people need freedom of responsibility, without the imposing cloud of micromanagement. Pete Lowe explores further.

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Leaders create leaders

Real accountability happens in the context of a culture that supports trust and genuine teamwork, i.e. the recognition that everybody has a part to play of equal value to create a unified entity. Under this ethos, people are empowered to fulfil their role without fear of a blame culture. In essence, a leader must demonstrate accountability so that others can do the same. This aligns with the notion that leaders create leaders, not followers.

Great leaders are people with a talent to activate potential. As alchemists, they create a collective magic by enabling team members to see for themselves how they can continuously develop and grow. Leaders look to people who are attuned to their core values and philosophies. They may have complementary personalities, but it’s vital they are aligned with the organisational vision. This synergy and passion to work in a single direction naturally creates accountability as each person recognises the part they play.

A leader’s standard of performance

Even in the most ‘well oiled’ organisations, there will be moments of tension caused by challenging situations. It’s important that leaders don’t stifle differing viewpoints but give them space to resolve conflict, while keeping everyone on the same page and allowing them to do their job. This is understood intuitively in line with the leader’s standard of performance.

The standard of performance provides the parameters for what is acceptable from a qualitative point of view. If behaviour or performance undermines this benchmark then it not only exposes areas of disconnect but it shows where a leader isn’t taking responsibility to ensure consistency and accountability. I look to a less orthodox quote source to support this in the form of Jeff Tracy who uttered the words: “If you want to be a Thunderbird, you’ve got to become a part of the team.”

The interesting thing about ‘teamship’ is that it can’t be contrived or manipulated. Like most things in life, it works effortlessly when it is natural and organic. As soon as people start to pay lip-service or become disillusioned then you have a problem. You can’t fabricate loyalty – it must come from within.

No alibis

Accountability includes zero excuse making and there is no space afforded to seek validation and ego massage. In a culture where people are looking for alibis, there are deeper issues of fragmentation and discord caused by a lack of alignment.  Weak leadership is embodied by a contradictory standard of performance, where people focus efforts on corroboration rather than allowing freedom to challenge the status quo.  The culture is then defined by people who run scared, pointing fingers at others to project blame rather than face vulnerability – that’s your brigade of comfort zone dwellers.

When an organisation’s culture is embedded in honesty and integrity it enables people to acknowledge mistakes without fear of blame and to work with the team to reflect, learn and move forward positively. It’s OK to fail, as long as failure isn’t the final destination but viewed instead as a learning opportunity to inform the approach moving forward.

Good leadership features the following behaviours to allow for both personal and collective accountability:

  • Clear communication, with a well-defined route to achieve shared goals
  • Giving people the scope to explore how they might achieve those results without micromanaging
  • Integrity, authenticity, and humility
  • The courage to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them
  • Genuine trust (not false trust that gets found out when the pressure becomes significant)
  • The cultivation of real relationships, allowing people to use their knowledge and to have fun
  • Real accountability creates the capacity for change. Successful transformation operates at far higher levels of accountability than others, where the team is a single entity that learns and grows

Marking your own homework

When you mark your own homework you only ever get the results you want yourself. Sometimes there is a need to look outside your existing culture in order to have clarity of perspective and transparency.

There is a curious duality to some people who appear tough and resilient externally, yet they don’t allow constructive criticism or challenge as it’s a threat to their fragile ego. This is symptomatic of a fixed mindset, where perceived accountability changes to justify results. This brand of leadership is expert in reverse engineering and deflecting responsibility.

Genuine accountability comes with a fresh honesty that acknowledges where things can improve and a humility that tempers actions. This transparency is expansive and allows for energy and momentum to be invested in a shared vision that is open to external scrutiny and unafraid to take feedback, confident in the knowledge that it will only ever contribute to the next success.

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