Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


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

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The Heart of Accountability

For this month, I'm going back to the archives to revisit and update a favourite article, written years ago now. I observed then, as I do now, that we have a near obsession with accountability. Nothing wrong with this, accountability is essential to both the organization and the individual who we expect should be accountable. The topic has spawned books, seminars and formal accountability agreements, all playing to a soft spot for most leaders. It's as if some think, "If I can just get them to commit in writing – it will happen."

I suggest though that a lack of accountability often stems from leadership that is less than it should be. Let me illustrate with a tale of two leaders. Our first is an individual I knew some time ago who had a near obsession with accountability. He had employees write lengthy accountability agreements, (a troubling trend that has made its way into leadership thinking.) His first mistake was that he wanted people to be accountable for performance with goals that were impossible to reach - a basic breach of the emotional fairness contract every leader is responsible for. He cared not at all about the hardship they entailed. Because he worked 80-hour weeks he thought everyone else should as well, another breach of the fairness contract. When their best efforts came up short he lost his temper, reprimanding and often belittling employees very publicly. He clearly missed the reality that his leadership was the biggest part of the accountability problem.

As a newspaper publisher I worked for our second leader, a man who was one of the best I have ever worked for. From the onset of our relationship it became clear that he had an interest in me and wanted to help me succeed. He cared about everyone who worked for him. He was fair and caring. He was also a tough and demanding leader. He set the bar high and always insisted on my best work. Although we never talked about it, I believe he valued balance as well. He never asked the impossible. He was by any description fair and caring.

My bet is that you've worked for each of these leaders. One was fair minded and caring and the other completely unreasonable. Take just a minute and think about the good boss. Recall who he or she was and they way you felt about working for this person. If you felt anything like I did, you'd have done whatever you could not to disappoint this leader. Isn't that really the heart of accountability - people who don't want to disappoint the man or woman they work for? This kind of accountability doesn't require faddish written agreements - it evolves naturally when skillful leaders make reasonable demands and demonstrate that they care about the people they lead.

Now it is also true that at times caring leaders - those who value a more collegial environment as I did - can inadvertently create the impression that they are soft on performance. I've experienced this with one or two individuals and had to reaffirm the importance of high performance, even in a more collegial environment. But much more often I see unreasonable uncaring leaders treat people badly and then complain about a lack of accountability. These leaders need to look in the mirror.

Want to go deeper on accountability? Check out my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders available in paperback or e-book.

Discussion questions:

  1. How responsive and accountable is your team?
  2. How do the goals you set for others measure up, are they challenging and yet still achievable?
  3. Have you ever had to reaffirm the importance of performance in a collegial environment? How did you go about it?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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


Has this article sparked some thinking?
Join our blog Talking Leadership here to share it with other readers.


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Download our articles below:

Lead Like Scrooge, December 2017

Follow Well To Lead Well, October 2017

Fundamentals First, September 2017

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 Gaynor's capacity to tailor his material to each specific audience is just one of the great reasons that made yesterday's workshop so rich and dynamic. Under the title "The Heart & Hands of Leadership", Dan skilfully shared with his audience of Team Leaders from the Alzheimer Society of Calgary his many years of experience as a successful leader and trainer. His sound, yet simple insight into the field of leadership will serve as a solid platform on which to build the future stages of our organization."
– Jorge O. Avilés, Executive Director, Alzheimer Society of Calgary