How a leader models accountability


“If it is to be, it is up to me.” — Unknown

After your second cup of coffee, you remember that Mary had a big deadline two weeks ago and then suddenly realize that you haven’t heard about results. You call Mary into your office, and when you ask her about her deadline, she says, “I’m still waiting on Fred to give me the data. Once I receive it, I’ll need a week to analyze it and write my report.” She returns your look of shock with a puzzled stare as if she is thinking “What? It’s not my fault!” Frustrating, right?

You have reached your breaking point and want to declare that, from now on, you are enforcing a culture of accountability and that Mary must do whatever it takes to honor her commitments. Before you react, though, take a look in the mirror. Maybe you’re not demonstrating accountability in your own actions, and leaders who don’t model accountability can’t expect their employees to behave any differently.

What is personal accountability?

Linda Galindo, author of  The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success — No Nonsense, No Excuses writes: “Personal responsibility is a “before-the-fact” mind-set of personal ownership and commitment to a result. Self-empowerment is taking the actions-and the risks-that you need in order to ensure that you achieve the results you desire. Being accountable for your results requires an “after-the-fact” mindset of being willing to answer for the outcomes resulting from your choices, behaviors, and actions.”

In their book The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual And Organizational Accountability, authors Roger Connors and Tom Smith state: “Taking personal accountability means making a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results — to see it, own it, solve it and do it.”

Accountability is something you choose to exhibit – it is not assigned to you.

As these authors emphasize, personal accountability is both a choice and a mindset. Specifically, it means that you are 100% responsible for:

  • your choices
  • your feelings
  • your opinions
  • your beliefs
  • your actions
  • the results and the consequences of all the above.

Organizational accountability occurs only when individuals behave accordingly, and, your organization won’t be accountable unless you are. If you struggle with accountability, you are not alone. A study in Harvard Business Review revealed that almost 50% of managers are terrible at accountability.

Ten ways to jump start your own accountability:

  1. Be brutally honest with yourself. The first step to solve your accountability problem is to admit that you have an organizational problem, and that you are part of it. Create a list of your unfulfilled promises over the last six months, both professionally and personally. What are the major reasons for you breaking your promises? What changes do you want to make?
  2. Commit to a new mindset of personal accountability. Choose a period of time, such as three months, during which you will honor 100% of your promises.
  3. Don’t over-commit. Carefully consider every commitment: do you have adequate resources (time, money and people) to execute this promise?
  4. Develop a tracking system. Whether it is a manual list or an app, find a system that you want to use. Capture your commitments as soon as you make them. Periodically review your list and re-prioritize, if necessary. It won’t take long for your team to notice your new behavior, and they will begin to trust and respect you.
  5. After your initial three months, publicly admit that you have not been 100% personally accountable in the past, but during the last three months you have been tracking and honoring each of your commitments. Ask your employees for help by giving them permission to challenge you if you regress to your past behavior.
  6. Listen for clues that you are not personally accountable. For example, when you hear yourself say “It’s beyond my control” or “Something more important came up”, stop yourself and ask: “How am I responsible and accountable?” Then publicly regroup and rephrase using “I” statements such as, I am sorry. That was not an accountable response. Here is what I want to say.”
  7. Restate your commitments at the end of every meeting, and say when you will fulfill them.
  8. Monitor your progress. Periodically evaluate what percentage of your commitments that you keep. In what areas do you need the most work? In what areas are you succeeding?

Personal responsibility shifts your perspective and eliminates your excuses. Great leaders understand this and model accountability, not just mandate it.

Read more on this topic:

Working with integrity

Take 7 steps to increased accountability

Cascading accountability throughout the organization

Living your core values: Winning through accountability

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