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How Leaders Demonstrate Accountability

Published: Saturday, February 15, 2020
Updated: Monday, July 12, 2021

What does being an accountable leader mean?

For me, it means that you take responsibility over the professional success and personal growth of your employees. It means that you have the resolve to own up to commitments and promises that you have made. It means being answerable to the actions and decisions made by you and by those you lead. It means having both the vision of a leader, and the resourcefulness to execute on it.

Being an accountable leader is no easy task. But it is essential in order to be a change agent, in order to bring real value to your organization and to those on your team.

I have the pleasure of working with many different leaders at all levels, across many different industries. All those leaders who were perceived as having leadership accountability shared four specific skills. These four skills are:

1. Establish clear goals and targets

2. Focus on the future state

3. Ask for help when needed


4. Provide honest and constructive feedback
Establish Clear Goals and Targets

Having unclear goals, unclear targets, is a sure-fire way of creating confusion and frustration among your team. It’s impossible to have leadership accountability and develop a culture of accountability if you don’t know what you need to be accountable for. If you want your team members to be successful, then you must set clear goals and targets. Clear goals are measurable and meaningful, and they paint a clear vision for your team. 

The SMART goal method is not a new one, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. Take the time to see that the goals you have given your team are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. If they are not, then it’s time to go back and work on making them transparent.

Focus on the Future State

Where are we going? How will we get there? What specific steps to we need to take to go from point A to point B? What obstacles are in our way, and how will we avoid them? An accountable leader must be able to answer these questions, which concern the future state. An accountable leader must provide clarity on how the team can achieve their goals, complete their projects, and reach this desired new state.

The accountable leaders are the ones that can take a challenging vision and make it a possibility. They do this by breaking the larger steps into smaller, more manageable ones. They then arrange these smaller steps into a chronological order. They assign checkpoints with clear deliverables, and hold themselves and the team accountable to them. They regularly review how they are doing and take the time to celebrate wins along the way.

Ask for Help When Needed

Even though accountable leaders are diligent in creating a clear future state, bumps will appear along the way. Changes in the organization or the market will create new obstacles and possible constraints. Many will make the mistake of pushing on through, no matter what  obstacle they encounter. My experience with accountable leaders has taught me that they don’t easily fall into this trap. Instead they seek out help.

Many leaders are proud, and they should be. It’s no easy feat leading a team into today’s digital disruptive atmosphere. Accountable leaders don’t let their pride stop them for asking for help. They act ask for help the minute they need it; they don’t wait for a situation to become a crisis. Like the Level 5 Leader that Jim Collins popularized, they put the team’s vision and goals above their own needs. Asking for help does not mean you are not accountable, just the opposite. It shows your team that you are committed to them and builds trust. It shows that you are committed to the goal.

Provide Honest and Constructive Feedback

Finally, an accountable leader allows others on the team to be accountable and accept responsibility if they made a wrong (or right) move. The best way to do this is through honest and constructive feedback. Feedback allows the team to know how they are performing, learn, grow and achieve results. Everyone wants to know the truth. Confirming with them that their work is hitting the mark, or that it might be falling short of expectations, is helpful. Constructive feedback takes it to the next level by providing the team with strategies for improvement and their own leadership development.

Don’t wait until an official performance review. By then, it’s too late. Provide that constructive feedback in the moment. It needs to be a continuous process, one that allows the team to know when they need to change strategies, or when they need to pivot and try new tactics. A leader that provides constructive feedback empowers the whole team, allowing everyone to be accountable.

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