Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


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

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Fostering Accountability

Accountability: to be responsible for your conduct

Accountability has to be among the leadership principles I hear the most about. Most of the leaders I meet want more of it. Most also think there must be something they can do to produce this wonderful quality in those they lead, as if they could somehow install the right part and have the car run better, but accountability doesn't work like that. While leaders can create conditions that encourage accountability, the decision to be accountable, or not, rests with the individual, so let's look at some of the steps a leader can and should take to encourage accountability.

Leaders get off to a good start when they set the right example: Many leaders just don't practice what they preach, they promote accountability then make excuses and avoid responsibility when the wrongdoing is theirs. In his book Moral Leadership: Facing Canada's Leadership Crisis, Robert Evan's called this "Leader-lite." He writes, "Leader-lite, a charismatic, beer commercial beautiful escapee from a Harry Rosen window, is a product of a distorted ethic that began in the sixties and over the years has steadily eroded the concept of personal responsibility." Promoting personal responsibility has to start with the leader. Leader-lite breeds cynicism not accountability.

When you get excuses help team members see why accountability matters. Your team members know it matters but they see risk in being accountable and they don't appreciate why it is important. I like to approach the answer from both a corporate and personal perspective. From the corporate perspective, accountability should matter to everyone because a team full of excuse makers wouldn't have much of a future and everyone benefits from a team with a promising future.

Now the personal perspective. I once heard it said that accountability is a good teacher. I like the phrase. As long as we are making excuses, we are not accepting the responsibility for our conduct, and from this perspective we are not ready to learn from that conduct and change. Accountability (being responsible for our conduct) makes us coachable, it underpins growth. Help team members appreciate that accountability is essential to their professional development. When people understand why accountability is valuable they are more likely to accept it.

Next take care to reward it when you see it. Too many people have taken the risk to be accountable without excuses for something that went badly to find themselves being punished for it. When some is sincerely contrite thank them, help them learn from the experience and move on.

Finally, make it clear that accountability is a condition of employment. When you have set a good personal example and taught someone why accountability matters (to both the team and the individual) and your efforts have not produced it, impose consequences, up to and including job loss. If you don't, you will be rewarding the excuses. Recognize that sometimes people need to lose a job to learn a lesson. Some need to lose several jobs to learn that their behaviour is the problem and accept accountability. Only then are they ready to learn and change.

Want to go deeper on accountability and performance management? Check out the book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leadership.

Discussion questions:

  1. When you are faced with excuses how do you typically respond?
  2. Recall a time when accountability was a good teacher for you, or someone you know of.

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.
May 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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Lead Like Scrooge, December 2017

Follow Well To Lead Well, October 2017

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Leadership from Supervisor to CEO, August 2017

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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


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