How to Hold People Accountable

Successful leaders believe in accountability.

When I say, “Leaders hold people accountable,” who comes to mind? Employees, right?

Authentic leaders think of themselves, as well as others, when they think of accountability.

Authority without accountability is abuse.

go into every encounter believing you are as accountable to them as they are to you.png


Accountability begins with leaders, not employees. If you want accountability from others, become accountable to others.

After you become accountable, expect accountability.

Reality about accountability:

You might try to impose accountability, but you can’t buy or force it. Accountability that elevates performance is freely embraced. Anything other than a person holding themself accountable is de-motivating coercion.


“Go into every interaction with those who work for you believing that you are as accountable to them for your performance as they are to you for their performance.” Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, and author of, “The Open Organization.”

Jim Whitehurst on reciprocity:

Accountable for:

During my conversation with Jim, he came back to “context” several times. Leaders are accountable to explain context. What else?

Leaders are accountable to employees for:

  1. Attach their job to the broader mission of the company.
  2. Explain how their job fulfills strategy.
  3. How people interact.

Jim Whitehurst on a leaders accountability to employees:

Additional ways leaders can be accountable to employees:

  1. Candor with the bad news as well as the good. Whether they should or not, employees are skeptical about leaderships honesty regarding bad news.
  2. Abundant feedback that aligns with mutually agreed upon expectations.
  3. Listening. Every employee would leap for joy if they heard their leader or manager say, “I’m accountable to you for my listening behaviors.”
  4. Create environments where people can bring out their best.

One-way accountability is arrogant.

Jim’s comments about mutual accountability surprise and challenge me. He put words to something that’s troubled me for a long time.

What are leaders accountable to employees for?

How might leaders live out their accountability to employees in tangible ways?