One of the biggest challenges leaders express to me is getting people to be accountable for results and take ownership and responsibility in their jobs. When people aren’t accountable, the challenge often grows into a cultural issue with a lack of accountability across the organization. Leaders often ask me, “How can I better hold my people accountable?”
First, I believe we can’t “hold” people accountable. Accountability is about taking ownership; it’s taking responsibility for one’s own actions. True accountability is voluntary. As leaders, we can create structures and an environment that instills accountability, but we can’t force someone to be accountable. Accountability can’t be mandated.
We need to look first at ourselves as leaders and ask if we are sending positive accountability messages or negative accountability messages. Are we modeling the accountability and ownership that we are expecting from our employees? Not just in the big ways, but in the small ways that send mixed messages. In my experience, most leaders are sending negative accountability messages, even if they are not aware of it.
When I reflect on my leadership, I recall several times that I sent negative accountability messages. At times I would struggle to keep up with my many meetings and not always take the time to plan and prepare as well as I could. I may have had the best of intentions, but the message I sent was that it was acceptable to show up to a meeting not fully prepared. Repeated messages like these can start to affect the behavior of employees and grow into lack of ownership and results.
Here are some common examples of negative accountability messages. Ask yourself if any of these apply to you:
• Are you consistently late to meetings?
• If you are leading a meeting, do you not start the meeting on time to wait for latecomers?
• Do you often come to meetings not having completed the things you said you would do or not fully prepared?
• Do you consistently shift meetings and coaching sessions with your staff because you have other important things to get done?
• Are you delinquent on preparing and conducting performance evaluations?
• Do you often commit to getting something to a peer and fail to follow through?
We all get busy. Things come up. But it’s our consistent, everyday actions that send messages to those we lead on how to behave and what is acceptable in our organizational culture. If we fail to take ownership and model accountability, we are sending a negative accountability message to our employees.
I believe we all can benefit from assessing our leadership and be more purposeful in sending positive accountability messages. We can have the best intentions, but it’s our actions that send the message and communicate our expectations. We can only truly instill accountability if we ourselves are accountable.
I’d love to hear from you-what is an example of where you can work on sending a positive accountability message?