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We define accountability as “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, Do It.” It sounds easy, but as leaders how do we effectively implement this seemingly simple principle?
Through an extensive decade-long study of employees across a variety of sectors, we identified sixteen traits that characterize every accountable leader. Read on to discover the first 8 of those traits. Embodying even a handful of these transforms you into leader with greater impact—on results, on employee engagement, and on creating a company culture of accountability.
These eight traits correspond to the first two Steps To Accountability: See It and Own It.
To better understand what works or doesn’t work in your organization, make a habit of reflexively seeking out other people’s perspectives. Leaders who do this are aware that, even when they’re thoroughly and critically approaching a problem, they’re unable to see every contributing factor on their own. Rather than considering them a threat to their own perspectives, they see the inherent value in other people’s opinions.
Relatedly, asking for honest input from others requires that you be honest with them in turn. Communication between you and your employees should be fluid, frequent, constant, and candid: employees should be able to trust that you aren’t manipulating or politicizing the truth when you’re setting expectations for them or giving them feedback.
More specifically, getting into the habit of reflexively asking for feedback on your management style will empower you to See It, as your blind spots are most likely to be centered around your own behavior and attitude. Get a sense of what it is about your leadership style that’s working for your team, and what isn’t — is it a matter of perception, or have you really been going about something in the wrong way? Understand how your employees see you, and you’ll be able to recognize miscommunication issues that could be hurting your ability to accomplish key goals.
It’s great to have an office full of kind, sensitive people, but at a certain point, you have to be willing to say and hear uncomfortable truths. Many people feel comfortable exchanging feedback to a certain point, but if the situation is too touchy and requires confrontation, they shrink from it. Leaders must get in the habit dealing with the elephant in the room, and even be willing to hold meetings to discuss issues that others were too fearful to address.
Personal investment is the most fundamental aspect of owning your work: if you feel that the success of an initiative or project corresponds with your own esteem or self-regard, you’re going to be far more motivated to hold yourself and others accountable in order to achieve that success. Remind yourself of the common purpose you share with employees and coworkers, and inspire similar personal investment from them.
If you’re really going to “Own It” — that is, take personal responsibility for your team’s success — you need to be able to learn from both successes and failures. When your team succeeds, it’s important to take note of what factors led to that success, rather than assume that simply continuing with your current behavior will replicate these results. When someone on your team fails, you need to critically examine the cause of that failure: what went wrong? What didn’t happen that should have? Were people confused about objectives? Trying to engineer a solution without taking responsibility for the problem can create resentment and bitterness — an accountable leader takes ownership of both.
The end goal of accountability is keeping everyone on track to achieve the shared goals of the organization. Practically everybody comes to work each day feeling accountable for something — the problem is that they usually don’t all feel accountable for the same things. Owning It doesn’t mean just owning the project you’re in charge of, or owning the list of items you’re supposed to check off each day. It’s about connecting the dots between those daily tasks and the things that matter most to your organization.
Naturally, if you’re asking for feedback from employees and coworkers, success will necessitate actually acting on what you’ve learned from them. Failing to implement the feedback you’ve received will create the perception among your team members that your interest in their input is merely superficial. By the same token, if you notice a problem with the way a coworker or employee is approaching their work, it’s your responsibility to relate your observation to that person or to your boss. If you withhold helpful feedback from others that could have prevented a disaster, you share some responsibility for the results.
Leaders who successfully engage their teams to achieve key results nurture a positive attitude in the workplace around accountability. Leaders who can shift the perception of accountability from something that is dished out after things go wrong to a process of learning in which expectations are consistent and clear from the get-go are more successful at preventing things from going wrong in the first place.