Is Being An Accountable Leader Just Common Sense?

 revised pic for accountability

This intriguing question popped up in a leadership program I was presenting this week. A young, very bright and ambitious manager was very sincere in wondering why leaders need to think about being accountable.

“Isn’t being accountable just plain common sense?” she wondered.

The other managers in the workshop listened carefully and processed what she was feeling. I could see them mulling over how they felt about what was shared by the young manager.

“Not really” said one manager. “As leaders we need to look at how our team members are performing and make sure each person is contributing in the best possible way.”

“I think we need to set an example of how to be accountable,” said another manager. “It isn’t so obvious what accountability means to each of our departments.”

“What does accountability mean to you?” asked a third participant. “To me, being accountable involves specific steps and having trust on your team.”

Being accountable is an important leadership skill, yet one that is often forgotten about or not discussed. Whether we are a team leader, an active team participant or a solo entrepreneur, thinking about what accountability means can redefine how we solve problems and tackle challenges.

What does accountability mean to you? Here are four ways to take hold of your leadership accountability:

1. Define accountability for yourself, your team and your organization

Begin by understanding your personal “take” on accountability. Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • What does accountability look like in my work as well as personal spaces?
  • To whom am I accountable?
  • What actions did I take this week that demonstrated accountability?
  • Would other people around me say I was accountable?

 2. How could I show more ownership of my actions, decisions and attitudes?

It is sometimes easiest for us to blame someone else for not giving us the right information or delaying our deadline. When we throw away being part of the solution by not taking ownership, then we too are responsible for not completing our project. But when we try to resolve a missing piece or inaccurate data we are modeling accountability.

3. Help others to be accountable

We talk a lot about this in all my programs about how leaders can empower others see why their contributions are so important. Instead of finding fault with directions people give us or material that seems less than perfect, we can help others clarify their expectations. Look at the work from their point of view. Then think of ways to help them be more successful and responsible. Sometimes it can be as simple as sharing how we prioritize our workload.

 4. Put trust at the top of your list

If we don’t have a trust level with our teammates or people with collaborate with, it is impossible for us to have a clear understanding of how we can best be accountable.

  • Do what you say you will do
  • Don’t blame
  • Don’t judge
  • Be an advocate for others
  • Roll your sleeves up and jump in to help

Is being accountable just common sense? How do you show your leadership accountability to yourself and others?




10 thoughts on “Is Being An Accountable Leader Just Common Sense?

  1. This is such an important concept in leadership. Sometimes I see managers look the other way when someone doesn’t carry their responsibility. This infuriates the rest of the team and sends a terrible message to all involved. Holding people accountable and supporting them in that process is a vital part of leadership. Important post. Thank you.

  2. Looking the other way does seem to be common practice with many in leadership positions. I have noticed that when leaders model accountability by stepping up and offering to oversee a project, teammates will follow their example.

    I also think that it takes a lot of courage to reach out to someone on your team or in another department and provide them with a different perspective or set of tools to approach a roadblock. Important to at least try.

    Thanks Karin!

  3. What a great question, Terri!

    Each of us defines accountability in a different way, and yet few of us stop to really think about what that actually means to us.

    To me, it means keeping my word to others. When I do, I align myself to both my goals and theirs. Thanks for the prompt to think about this important issue more deeply!

  4. Knowing what accountability means to each of us is a discussion worth having because as you say, “Each of us defines accountability in different ways.” In the class we realized that for one person accountability meant taking responsibility for all her team’s mistakes while another manager felt it meant coming through for everyone they interact with.

    Thanks LaRae for sharing your meaning of accountability with us!

  5. Terri,

    Defining accountability for ourselves is a necessary first step. By doing this, we set the mindset of being responsible, taking ownership for what we do and how we do it.

    Accountability needs to be bound together with learning. We need to understand what went wrong and why and then what we can do differently next time. Accountability without learning will just be more limiting in our personal and leadership growth.


  6. You are so right that without learning and understanding where we went wrong, we can’t apply accountability to our growth as leaders. We need to commit to owning our mistakes and work through how to improve and see things differently. Some leaders can’t get past the fact that they aren’t walking the talk, so they tend to blame others when things go wrong. When we recognize that we are all in this together and our teams are only as strong as our weakest link.

    Thanks Jon for your great points!


  7. I love this post, Terri, because you’re challenging each of us not only to say, “yeah, of course accountability is important in leadership,” but to define and understand what it means to us is an important challenge. It’s impossible to consistently live our values if they’re just a word on a page. Your questions are a great place to begin personal reflection.

    For me, I think accountability is showing up, fully, giving my best, and doing what I say I will do… but it’s also modeling and holding others to doing the same.

    Thanks, Terri!

  8. You make a critical point, Alli that it isn’t good enough for each of us to be accountable without empowering others to do the same.

    Asking the question of what accountability means to each person helps to align our actions and words with each of our values and goals. Goal setting is another essential piece and knowing where we are headed and how we want to get there.

    Thanks Alli for sharing with us your definition of accountability! I love it and it is so important that we show up fully!

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