Are You Afraid of Accountability?

Are You Afraid of Accountability?

If you want to be an effective leader, there is one word that will make or break your leadership: Accountability. An accountable style of leadership doesn’t come easily. Many people in leadership are afraid of it. How about you?

Accountability means you have to be willing to hear the truth and give it. This takes courage and a willingness to be transparent. Leaders may talk about accountable leadership but fall short of implementing it. You have the opportunity to make it work.

If you are willing to build your leadership around accountability, you will be amazed at the transformation all around you. Here are four basic keys to accountable leadership.


1. Be Fully Engaged 

Maybe there was a time when leaders could separate their work from the rest of their lives. Or maybe that luxury never really existed. Either way, that time is no more. To be an effective leader, you need to be as fully engaged in your working life as you are in every part of your life.

A friend told me a tale of two bosses, one just above her, and the other above him.

The manager at the top was vibrant in every aspect of his life. In his family, he was a strong and caring father. In the community, he fought for social justice. And he treated his clients and employees the same way.

But the manager just above her was two different people. As a boss, he was a cardboard cutout, ready to whitewash at the first sign of trouble. It wasn’t until my friend joined a corporate ball league that she saw him as a person. Night and day different. If only he could have been that person in the office, perhaps their department might have experienced a different outcome.

As a leader, it matters what you do and how you do it. If you are distant, why should the people on your team care about what they do? That’s a sure recipe for your business to suffer. On the other hand, when you are fully engaged as a leader, your team, clients, customers, and business will be fully alive and successful.

2. Set up Real Accountability

Let’s say you want to be an authentic leader who is fully engaged. How do know you’re achieving this? You have to be willing to be accountable.

Accountability is so important to leadership success that you’d think we would do it better. Too often, businesses try and provide accountability through ineffective means.

The company pays lip service to accountability through the voices of “yes” people. They are so afraid of losing their jobs or so determined to get a promotion that they will tell you what you want to hear.

On the other extreme, a board or committee sits in judgment without knowing you, your goals and vision, or your leadership capacity. While you may be subjected to it, that is not effective accountability.

True accountability must be set up by you, and every good leader needs to do this. Choose people who know you well, and who you can trust to be honest. Give them permission to hold you to a model of leadership that is above reproach.

Listen to them. Respond. Make changes along the way. Grow into the leader you want to be.

3. Speak the Truth 

For effective leaders, there are two sides to accountability. You have to be willing to receive it. But you also must be willing to give it. This requires speaking the truth.

Even the most determined leaders may be uncomfortable in this role. It’s human nature to want to be liked and appreciated. You might fear people will turn on you if you are honest with them.

The dilemma goes like this: If I tell my employee of the negatives I see, will that person become even more negative? Shouldn’t I just placate, sugar coat, or ignore? After all, it’s only business. It’s just one more thing to put up with.

Your response to that dilemma can define you as a leader. And sure, the reaction may be negative. If so, perhaps that employee will be better off somewhere else – in another department, in another role, in another company. Imagine the honest conversation that could open up in this regard. Would that be so bad? The outcome might even amaze you.

Nor should you assume a bad response. The first manager I met who was willing to speak truthfully to her employees changed their lives. Every one of them was grateful. Her truthfulness allowed them to flourish. They became the people they had always wanted to be. Why? Because she saw those characteristics in them, told them, and held them to it.

What if you could provide that kind of outcome for the people you lead?

Truth-speaking doesn’t just apply to the people you are managing. It works in the other direction as well. Are you willing to be truthful with the people you report to, whether that’s a senior leader, business stakeholders, or even the surrounding community? When you need to tell them something they might not want to hear, can you be honest? Or are you afraid and more concerned with protecting your job?

It’s a risk to speak up. You might lose your job. On the flipside, that insight that you are reluctant to give might be the very thing that turns your business around for the better.

Either way, your leadership effectiveness depends on your willingness to lead from a place of accountability.

4. Give People Freedom

As a leader, when you create an atmosphere of honesty, you will find that you have also cultivated an environment of trust. Trust is powerful because it leads to freedom. And freedom means everyone does what they do best, and they do it in the best possible ways.

Too often, leaders err by taking away freedom. Most of them don’t realize they’re doing it. I’ve seen this with colleagues who are passionate about their work. The surest way to put out that fire is to micromanage them. Everything in them resists. They start to dread their work.

I’ve seen this in many work settings. Someone is enjoying a project and giving it his all. His manager comes up and says, “Try it this way.” Or even “Are you done yet?” There goes the enjoyment. There goes his all. You can see him deflate. A shell of him is left to “Just get it done” or “Get it done the boss’s way.”

The problem with this is that the boss isn’t the person who does what this employee does. The boss hired him for that. He was hired for many reasons: talents, wisdom, experience, insights, creativity. And the boss keeps hitting the mute button on all of those reasons.

To be an effective leader, you have to be willing to trust your people to do what you chose them to do. You worked hard to find the right people for your team. Don’t negate that by taking that freedom away. Let them flourish. Watch what happens. Suddenly you are also free to do what you do best.

What if you want to create this kind of environment, but you aren’t really allowing it? Leaders often have the best intentions but lack the follow-through. You might not even recognize the ways you inhibit freedom in your team. Or maybe you are in denial.

Here is another place where accountability comes in. Are you willing to have your day-to-day leadership style critiqued? Are you willing to listen and look at reactions from your team, and recognize your responsibility in those areas of concern?

Will you allow your own accountability group to evaluate your day-to-day problems with leadership style? This will help you bridge the gap between ideals and reality. It may not be pleasant, but it will produce great results.

Accountable leadership is not easy. It takes intentionality and courage. But it also creates an environment where amazing things happen.

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