We’ve all seen what happens to a team or organization when accountability is lacking. When one team member underperforms, other team members have to pick up the slack. Resentment sets in and interpersonal conflict rises. Team morale lags and overall results begin to suffer. In addition to increased team dysfunction, trust and respect erode for the leader who seems to be avoiding the situation.
Leaders that command trust and respect — inspiring leaders — are accountable to themselves and to their team. They also know it’s their role to hold others accountable. But despite knowing this, many leaders struggle when it comes to holding others accountable.
Why? Sometimes the culprit is unclear expectations or the lack of consequences for poor performance or inappropriate behavior. More commonly, it’s because holding people accountable may require a difficult conversation, and we’re hard-wired and/or conditioned to avoid this type of complex interpersonal conflict.
So how exactly do we build accountability and how can we prepare for these types of difficult conversations?
Three prerequisites for accountability
In his book, the Five Dysfunctions of a team, Patrick Lencioni explains that team members won’t take accountability if the following three things aren’t in place:
Context: If team members don’t understand the ‘why’ behind a strategy or decision, they’ll remain spectators, not owners. Inspiring leaders set the stage and provide context to help increase understanding on their team.
Commitment to the idea or strategy: Leaders often make decisions that impact the team without soliciting team input. If team members don’t have an opportunity to weigh in, chances are they won’t buy-in. Without buy-in, there’s further lack of ownership. Inspiring leaders encourage input and foster a greater sense of commitment, ownership and buy-in by engaging their team.
Clear expectations: If people don’t know exactly what you want or what they are accountable for, it doesn’t happen. To borrow Brené Brown’s term, leaders need to “paint done”. Inspiring leaders vividly communicate what ‘done’ looks like and what’s really needed so their team feels equipped to deliver with confidence.
Accountability can’t be delegated. It must be accepted.
As a leader, you can’t force people to be accountable. They need to own it. To own it, they need to be set up for success. While this may be easier said than done, we’ve found that asking powerful questions can go a long ways in setting the stage for accountability.
Imagine for a moment that you're the leader faced with the scenario we outlined at the beginning of this article. You have an under-performing individual on your team and collective results are suffering while team tension is rising. It's time for you to take action and have an accountability conversation.
Instead of approaching the individual with a grocery list of all the ways they've negatively impacted a project or failed the team, picture what could happen if you asked some of these questions instead:
- Have I painted a clear picture of the expectations? How can I provide more clarity?
- What, if any, questions/reservations are coming up for you?
- Do you have what you need to be successful? If not, what’s missing?
- What, if anything, do you need to be better equipped to take ownership of this task?
- What, if anything, is standing in your way?
- Moving forward, what can I count on you to do and when will you deliver it?
During this conversation, it’s important you provide whatever information is missing. Without it, accountability will not and cannot be accepted. Once clarified and accepted, it's time for you to step back and hold the person capable of delivering.
Check yourself before your wreck yourself: Leaders’ accountability checklist
Improving accountability on a team always starts with you. It can only be achieved if you’re walking the talk. Before you talk to a team member about accountability, go through this checklist and ask yourself:
- Am I accountable? Do I do what I say I’m going to do? If I can’t deliver, do I provide the team with context and information?
- Does this person trust me as a leader?
- Do I know this person, their contributions and what’s important to them?
- Do I have their buy-in on the initiative or task?
- Have they had a chance to weigh in? Do they have clarity? Are we on the same page?
- Am I clear about what I want? Have I “painted done”? Is this person clear on what's expected of them?
- Do I trust this person will deliver? If not, what’s causing the lack of trust on my end?
Remember, “In the end, as a leader, you are always going to get a combination of two things: what you create and what you allow.” ~ Dr. Henry Cloud
You won't drive results if you aren't holding yourself and your team accountable. So, when it comes to accountability on your team, what will you create and what will you allow?
Catherine works with our Smart Savvy Academy, delivering workshops and programs to strengthen leaders, teams, cultures, employer brands and engagement. Her raison d’être is to make work more meaningful, leaders more potent and teams more productive and engaged.
Smart, Savvy + Associates are experts in helping marketing and communications leaders find people and develop teams that thrive and deliver inspiring results. As a people performance company, we specialize in finding marketing and communications talent in the Pacific North West. We also offer training programs for leaders and teams as well as options to become a certified coach or get coached.