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.
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:
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:
- Attach their job to the broader mission of the company.
- Explain how their job fulfills strategy.
- How people interact.
Jim Whitehurst on a leaders accountability to employees:
Additional ways leaders can be accountable to employees:
- Candor with the bad news as well as the good. Whether they should or not, employees are skeptical about leaderships honesty regarding bad news.
- Abundant feedback that aligns with mutually agreed upon expectations.
- Listening. Every employee would leap for joy if they heard their leader or manager say, “I’m accountable to you for my listening behaviors.”
- 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?
Nice read. Thank you. The only way to hold others accountable is to make sure that your own actions are held accountable too.
Honesty and integrity. If you make a mistake, own up. In public.
Be open to or, better yet, seek out employee suggestions on what you can do better. It can be eye-opening for you, improve your performance and it can increase their respect for you if they notice the positive changes in you as a result. M. Gandhi wrote, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” We need to lead!
Thanks Dr. Pinzon. Wonderful additions.
I’ve seen the seeking of feedback and then acting on it be a source of encouragement and energy in others.
There is nothing healthier than openness and receptivity in relationships of any kind. I try to practice that in all aspects of my life. Granted, it can be challenging when the other party does not share the same feeling. Resistance and denial can become problematic. Egos get in the way. Insecurities become apparent. Again, it is our responsibility as leaders to uncover acceptable, workable solutions or, when needed, to ensure that toxic behaviors be eliminated.
But what if top management is toxic? How does it eventually play out?
As I quite often am, I’m reminded of Dan Pink’s Three Elements of an environment conducive to intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. With regard to this post, leaders should expect accountability in conjunction with employee autonomy and efforts toward mastery; AND employees should expect leader accountability in communicating the purpose of the organization and commitment to the support in addressing that purpose. Mutual accountability…
Thanks John. I really love how you came at this question. Bringing Pink’s work to bear on this opens a whole new realm of application. Wonderful.
What a great list Dan. Love so much of it but I’ll pick one thing: One-way accountability is arrogant.
When I was a psychotherapist I had to get parents to understand the point your making above. I helped them tosee that one way accountability is abusive and creates more than frustration. It creates resentment, animosity and resistance.
We get what we give.
Thanks Alan. I hate it when I’m reminded that if I don’t like what I see around me, I need to look at myself, first. I can’t tell you how challenging and useful that idea is.
Dan, the theme of accountability mandates we ask “ourselves”: Do our staff members have the “ability to account” for their performance? If so, how? If not, why not?
Are we asking, “Can you do that?” Or, “Do you know how to do that?” The difference is the latter directs attention toward defining the steps necessary to get the project accomplished. This orientation can be characterized in terms of the guiding principle that there’s no question of one’s failure: The focus is on only solutions.
The point is, which is more empowering: To mindfully embrace “process,” growth, accomplishment, and success–or entertain the possible excuses, reasons or “outcomes” of one’s mistakes, risk and failure?
We often fail to see this truth because outcome is more visible than process. We not only see but celebrate final accomplishment and success–but not the process that led to it and made it possible.
The process orientation of “How to do things” means being aware that every outcome is preceded by process.
People forget this all the time. They begin their project plans with some anxiety because they’ve seen other people’s completed and polished outcomes–and mistakenly compare it to their own first tentative steps. With their noses deep in their plans, they look in awe at someone else somewhere and focus more and more on outcome. What they forget is process: Nothing is born without foundation, form and function. To achieve we must ask: “How do I do it?” This gives us accountability.
Thanks Books. The questions we ask determine focus and response. I find our obsession with result and neglect of process is counter productive to achieving great results.
Your comment illustrates the importance of moving beyond yes/no questions to “how.”
Dan, Love the post. It has helped me in almost every area of my life to be clear about the various ways that I am responsible to people–my wife, my children and grandchildren, work colleagues, friends, people I coach and more. I am responsible to them in a many ways. At the same time I am not and never will be responsible for them and for what they do or do not do. Clarity about the distinction between responsible to and responsible for has been clarifying and freeing–while in no way making me less accountable.
A question I like to ask people indeed leaders ‘what is your job’ .In 99% of cases the answer will be related to their function . One guy answered it this way; He was taking an early morning walk in a hotel car park and came across an employee sweeping up leaves and the like. He asked the employee ” what do you do round here”. The employee said ” I am making sure guests keep coming back”. He had accountability borne out of a solid purpose without being told what to do. What % of people do you think would answer as per the above example?
A very inspiring post on accountability.
Leaders need to be accountable for providing progress feedback on collective projects, achievement status and the likely changing environment that can affect their working. Leaders need to provide encouragement and push people to perform their duties well.
Good performance is possible with timely actions with a responsibility of ownership.
Excellent as usual! Now if we only could get the government to follow suit!
I supervise 10 direct reports. That each supervise 6-9 employees and all in the retail industry. The biggest challenge I see is holding employees accountable. I love this post. However, do you have any suggestions for books on the subject of accountability? My corporation has a strong training and develoment focus. Follow up is also very challenging. Open to any insight and direction. Thank you for your website!!
Thanks Isaiah…. My friend John Miller wrote a book called “QBQ! the Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life.” You might check that out. It focuses more on individual accountability, but it’s a very useful resource.
Ironic!! I had that in my cart on Amazon…just waiting..thank you for quick response. God bless!
Dan, thanks. Yes, the QBQ! book is for people at ALL levels and goes well beyond the concept of “holding others accountable.” It helps PEOPLE on the team – mgr and employee – eliminate blame, victim thinking, and procrastination. More here: QBQ.com. Thanks much!
Accountability towards employees tells how much responsibility we have towards employees
I’ve been wondering to myself why talk of accountability has been grating with me so much lately and I think you’ve cracked it for me… Not everyone, but some significant others on our senior leadership team demand accountability without much inclination to first be accountable themselves. It is shallow, lacks reciprocity and it is counter to a culture of team and trust. At worst, it is setting one up to be able to finger point if things go wrong.
Bogus approach: “I want to know who to hold accountable because I don’t trust my team mates to hold themselves accountable”.
Non-bogus approach: “I will hold myself accountable and I trust my team mates to do the same”.
That feels better!
accountability should be a natural phenomenon that has to come automatically not by a force full way. Then only he should be leader.
If somebody acts like a accountable person , that means he is following somebody’s trait.He never be a leader .
You’re so right Dan. Particularly about listening. It’s not only important to listen but show people that you have listened to them.
It’s amazing how simple phrases like ‘it sounds like…’ or ‘what you’re saying is…’ before you comment can spread accountability throughout the team.
Great topic Dan! Accountability is a two-way street very much like respect. In an organizational setting, it is imperative that there be accountability. This means that management needs to be accountable to their people and in-turn, the workforce needs to be accountable to the organization.
It is a common misconception that accountability is only required from those under management control and in a one-way direction. In the same manner, some workforce mindsets also lack accountability. The combination of the two spells disaster for the organization. Furthermore, lack of accountability promotes “painting with a wide brush” as a manner of addressing issues.
It takes leadership and a vision of shared success to establish a culture that promotes and requires accountability. Organizations that establish a culture of accountability are able to create expectations of it’s members. In doing so, standards can be created which allows for performance growth.