Why Effective Leaders Must Master Accountability

RBLP Staff -Building and Leading Resilient Teams Series

Why Effective Leaders Must Master Accountability

Accountability is one of the pillars of creating a positive climate in the workplace. Leaders who understand, practice, and ‘enforce’ accountability for themselves and their team members will create the proper climate for success.

Establishing accountability in the workplace represents a critical building block for successful team performance. Yet accountability is often misunderstood or, worse, misused by ineffective leaders. It can be easily confused with responsibility when responsibility is just one component of accountability. And when it is unevenly applied among team members, morale plummets.  

Effective leaders understand the need to hold everyone to the same set of behavioral standards. They also accept the challenges inherent in establishing and maintaining the standards that comprise accountability. Once mastered, a fair and equitable accountability measurement standard solves many of the problems that can arise and threaten productivity. 

What are the basic components of accountability in the workplace? 

A rule of thumb might be, “How does what I do in my role affect the productivity of others and the desired climate of the workplace?” People are responsible for doing their job well. Doing quality work and meeting individual deadlines are considered in every performance review. But these are individual criteria. To be accountable entails much more. It involves one’s responsibility to others on the team. 

To be accountable, one asks: Am I meeting the conditions for the workplace? If in the office, does my workspace conform with company policies? If we have regular hours, am I at work on time? Is there a dress code? Do I speak respectfully to my manager and peers? Do I attend required meetings? Respond in a timely fashion to requests from others on the team? 

Accountability standards will differ depending upon the work environment. For first responders – military, fire fighting, policing teams – accountability standards must be clear and set in stone. Team members must be accountable for every aspect of their behavior, and its effect on other team members, because the stakes are so high. 

For other teams, accountability standards are still critical to success. In environments such as software development, dress codes, office location, and decor, even the hours one works, are less important than meeting deadlines, working collaboratively with others, responding agilely (and uncomplainingly) to modifications in product or process.  All these conditions where one’s behavior and actions involve others speak to being accountable at work.  

It is the job of the leader to ensure that these agreed-upon behaviors are followed. 

This brings us to a crucial element of accountability: enforcement. A tough word, but applicable here. As a leader, the standards that comprise accountability must be evenly enforced. Playing favorites completely undermines team accountability. But individuals can be treated differently in order to maintain group accountability. 

Accountability standards can be flexible over time. If the team is hitting on all cylinders, why not raise them? Challenge your team to meet higher standards. As long as they understand what the rules of accountability are, and why they help everyone be more successful, creating a positive climate for accountability should be something everyone wants to get behind.