Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
July 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Fear and Accountability

Today accountability has to be among the most talked about leadership topics. It seems we live in a world where excuses have become the expected response when leaders talk about something that went badly. I spend a lot of time with clients promoting accountability and helping people see why it matters and how best to develop more of it. Fostering accountability, and even insisting on it, is the right thing to do.

Often though, leaders are unwittingly among the biggest contributors to the accountability problem we see so widely. Fear is a powerful force and many people have become fearful of the response they anticipate to accountability. For many, starting with parents, then moving through teachers, coaches and other authority figures, and onto to workplace leaders, a great many people have come to associate accountability with pain. Once again, every team reflects its leaders.

I remember well the day I looked at the morning newspaper I was leading and was confronted with a highly offensive photograph, right there on our front page. As an afternoon newspaper we still had youth carriers. My stomach turned at the thought of those youngsters breaking open the bundles to deliver them. And then there were the families that would pick them up on their doorsteps. As disappointed as I was, I knew it was not a malicious act on the part of the night editors who made the decision to include the photograph. It was a case of very poor judgment. I composed myself and called in the department head. He readily agreed that it was a horrible error and he took accountability for it – no excuses. He assured me he would take the lesson to the employees involved. I wrote a front page apology, (the only one I've ever had to write) and we moved on with an important lesson learned. Had I exploded in a rage he might have been forgiven for avoiding accountability with the next disappointment.

People make mistakes and at times they are going to disappoint us, this is inevitable. The question becomes why? Experience has convinced me that while some people do indeed somewhat deliberately perform poorly (they know they can do better and choose not to) most of the poor performances I have seen are far more innocent in nature. Most are product of experience, poor judgment or other circumstances. Most people don't set out to disappoint caring and skillful leaders.

So what's the best response? I would suggest that skillful leaders come to see mistakes (even the most painful ones) as opportunities to learn. They cultivate accountability by building trust and rewarding people for it. It's normal for the first response to a poor performance to be an excuse. Remember, many people have been burned by accountability. So this presents a teaching opportunity. When someone replies, "Yes, I did it and I'm sorry it turned out badly." I respond by thanking them for the accountability and moving on to the lesson to be learned. When someone responds with an excuse, I reply that I need people who are accountable and I won't punish people for it. I explain what it is and why it matters. I talk about the connection between accountability and learning - once again, accountability is a good teacher.

So accountability is likely not a lot different from any other behaviour – it is human nature to avoid the the things we fear and move toward those that bring reward.

Discussion questions:

  1. What was the biggest disappointment you had to content with as a leader? How did you respond?
  2. Recall a time when you made the mistake, were you accountable or did you find yourself making and excuse for what took place?

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
July 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor


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Join our blog Talking Leadership here to share it with other readers.


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Follow Well To Lead Well, October 2017

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Leadership from Supervisor to CEO, August 2017

Job Fit and Performance, May 2017

Thinking "Corporate", February 2017

Authenticity and Vulnerability?, November 2016

The Pain Problem, October 2016

The Big Question, September 2016

Risky Business, March 2016

Mentoring in the Moment, January 2016

Sacrificial Leadership, December 2015

5 Tactics For Better Meetings, November 2015

Leader as Follower, October 2015

Dynamic Balance, September 2015

Fearless Humility, August 2015

Fear and Accountability, July 2015

Building a Feedback Culture, June 2015

Fostering Accountability, May 2015

Confront or Avoid?, Apr. 2015

The Heart of Accountability, Mar. 2015

Powerful Ambition, Feb. 2015

Inspiring Possibilities, Jan. 2015

Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

Disagree Well, Nov. 2014

Culture and People, Oct. 2014


"Dan delivered his Heart and Hands of Leadership workshop as a guest speaker to kick-off to our senior management retreat. The content and particularly Dan's delivery of the information acted as catalysts in creating the conditions of success for our meeting. Throughout our sessions we kept referring back to the workshop as a benchmark of leadership behaviours required to bring our company to its next level. Participants were impressed with Dan's style and in his generosity to share from his own business management experience. No doubt in my mind that having Dan involved in our retreat will have a lasting impact on the success of Chariot Carriers in the future".
– Pierre Doyon, CEO, Chariot Carriers Inc.