Accountability: Does it start with the Leader or the Team?

There are so many aspects to being a leader within an organization or running a business with a team.  There are also a few challenges that come with being in a leadership role and probably one of the challenges I hear about most often from leaders I work with, is accountability.  First of all, how many of you out there, find it’s like pulling teeth to get your team to be accountable?  How many of you feel, that accountability should come naturally, they should just know… shouldn’t they?  Well, let’s dig a little deeper into this.

We all have our opinions on how leadership should be and our own experiences with leaders, but what is the deal really?

Here’s what I believe.  As a leader, if you want to be successful in leading your team, there are three key components that promote accountability, setting clear expectations, good two-way communication and trust.

  1. Set clear expectations.  If you set clear expectations from the beginning, you and your team know where you stand, everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities and what needs to happen.  It’s also a good idea to revisit the expectations regularly to ensure they still make sense.  As things change and evolve within your team, your business or organization, you may want to or need to make some changes.  Again this is why it’s so important to have them AND be sure your team understands them in the first place.
  2. Two-way communication.  This means staying connected, asking questions, giving them opportunities to ask questions and sharing regular feedback AND asking for it as well.  As leaders if we are all about giving feedback, but we are not open to receiving it, you will (if you’re self-aware), start to notice a decline in productivity, you may have people leaving your team or seeking other opportunities.  This is a clear sign that communication is not open and honest and soon trust begins to erode.  Nobody wants to work for someone who does not ask for or cannot accept feedback.  You may have heard the saying, People don’t leave their job they leave their manager.  Again, open, honest two-way communication is absolutely key.
  3. Trust.  Team members typically trust their leaders, they’ll do what is asked and believe what you say is correct…until you give them a reason not to.  As leaders, we need to demonstrate a level of trust with our team members as well.  If you as a leader do not feel you can trust them to do what you have asked of them, then there will be little to no potential for accountability because they’re not sure of where they stand.  In fact, in not allowing your team to take on a task (low risk of course, when the task is new) and fail or succeed, then you are also not allowing them to learn how to be accountable.  It’s in the trying, failing and trying again that you learn best, would you agree?  How good were you at managing your team when you started?  You had to learn, you probably had some set-backs, but ultimately someone took a chance on you, trusted that you had it in you to manage, to lead your team and now you are succeeding.

So back to the question, does accountability begin with you, the leader or your team members?  Consider this, accountability is not something you can hold, teach or something you do.  Accountability is more of a behaviour, it’s something you feel and understand.  Accountability is based on our own personal values, morals and beliefs.  So where does this leave us?  When looking for qualities in someone, what are you seeking?  Skill or Will?  We can teach people how to do something, but teaching people how to be someone, that is different.  There must be a compelling reason for us to do something, want something, to excel.  We all go to work wanting to do a good job, but what determines a “job well done?”  It’s in hearing what we did well (specifically), that it matched the expectations and accomplished the goal.  We can only know this when we hear it and trust the source.

When it comes to accountability, the truth of the matter is that it’s both the job of us as leaders and our teams.  That said, as leaders, you start the process of building accountability through these three components; setting clear expectations, good two-way communication and trust.  These are what I believe to be the pillars of accountability and it is the job of the leader to model behaviours you want to see in your team, to lead by example and to set clear expectations, promote good two-way communication and build and enable trusting relationships between you and your team.

Heather Wilson, ATC