How to Inspire Accountability in Future Leaders

Beth Miller |

One of the most powerful ways an organization can create effective leaders is through a system of accountability that measures performance and takes appropriate action based on that performance.

Accountability can be a driving force for success – and lack of accountability can be a driving force for failure in leaders and for a business. It is often not managed consistently because “accountability” usually carries a negative connotation; but true accountability involves taking ownership based on successes and failures. A proactive, holistic approach to accountability can be far more effective when building a strong leadership team.

The Importance of Meetings For Long-Term Accountability

In order to create a productive environment, senior managers must hold regular meetings. Not meetings for meetings’ sake, but meetings with a purpose, and meetings that occur on a regular basis. In some cases, this might mean weekly meetings. In other cases, daily 15-minute huddles are the norm.

No matter how often they are held, meetings must be consistent. Set a regular day of the week and time for the meeting, and have a proper agenda planned each time. Concentrate on the things that everyone in the room needs to hear. Don’t waste time on topics that will not benefit the group as a whole.

Always set aside time for individuals to discuss their current projects, what they need from others in the group, and what potential roadblocks may be standing in the way. Clear and open communication can help create a sense of ownership and accountability among leadership teams.

What Does Accountability Look Like?

Senior leaders can identify accountable people by the questions that they ask. When approached with a task or project, accountable people don’t ask “Why?” Accountable people ask, “How can I help?” and, “What needs to be done?” These types of questions indicate that the person is taking ownership of the project, rather than pushing ownership back on someone else.

On its face, delegation does not create a sense of accountability. If an individual manager was not involved in the process of defining the project or the task, she will not be fully engaged in its success. Include the appropriate people in all stages of planning in order to create a feeling of ownership among those doing the work.

Clear, defined deliverables are also important when creating a sense of accountability. The owner of the task must know precisely what is expected of him, the exact date and time by which it should be delivered, and the criteria for success. Poorly defined deadlines and deliverables do not support accountability.

Establishing Consequences

Accountability is about making a commitment. It is a promise to senior leadership, peers, or employees that a job will be completed. When that doesn’t happen, there must be consequences.

Consequences will depend upon the organization, its culture, and the individual circumstances of each situation. Often times, when it comes to leadership accountability, a peer-monitoring method can be highly effective. For example, leadership teams may choose to adopt a “Three Strikes, You’re Out” policy.

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What are strikes? The group should decide together. If they will be the ones to enforce the policy, they should be the ones to create the criteria. When a member of the team fails to deliver, the group will decide as a unit whether or not it constitutes a strike.

What does “you’re out” mean? Again, this type of policy would depend upon the organization. It might mean that the leader is no longer invited to planning and decision meetings, and he must instead live with the decisions made without him.

In some cases, “you’re out” could mean, “you’re fired.” The culture of the organization will determine the structure and consequences for these types of accountability programs.

Peer monitoring groups like this take the pressure off of the CEO and push responsibility onto the team. Leadership teams set their own criteria and they manage and police themselves. Decisions are made by the group, rather than a single individual. In these situations it will be up to the CEO to closely monitor the team, to ensure that bullying and cliques do not factor into group dynamics.

Creating a Team

Organizations that can create a feeling of teamwork can promote accountability. Members of the leadership team who lean on one another for success will feel more compelled to take ownership of projects and see them through to completion. By creating an environment where managers feel empowered and responsible for one another, organizations can nurture the growth of effective leaders.

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Beth Miller

Beth Miller

Beth Armknecht Miller’s passion for learning, and dedication to helping others, are strands woven throughout her distinguished career, which continue to guide her work with Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. As a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer, Beth holds herself to a rigorous standard of excellence, and she encourages her clients to do the same when pursuing their goals.

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