To hold one’s self accountable. It’s such a simple concept. Do what you say you’re going to do. Follow the rules. Be committed to the system or process. Fulfill your obligations. Do the right thing. Step up when situations need you to step up. Never avoid or ignore what you are responsible to or for. In just a few short sentences, I’ve described the qualities and characteristics of a leader. I’ve also described what leaders hope and pray for in those they lead.
If the concept of accountability is so easy to describe and comprehend, why is it something that leaders struggle with? Take a moment to speed-write a list of companies that you perceive as impressive in the way they perform and conduct business – companies whose thinking, behaviors and systems you would like to emulate in your own company. What you just created is your personal list of organizations that you admire for their accountability to do what needs to be done. I call them no-compromise companies.
The problem with accountability is that it is the recipient of more lip service than action. Accountability – to do what needs to be done – requires a level of commitment and discipline that many leaders spend time and energy seeking ways to avoid. Every leader does this to some degree. But the problem with accountability is that the more a leader avoids it, the more leaks spring up throughout their company. Want proof? Speed-write a list of issues your company is facing at this very moment. Without question, every item on your list represents an accountability compromise. Systems missing or not followed. Rules broken. Commitments broken. Responsibilities avoided. Problems ignored. Tough decisions avoided. Budgets not adhered to. Information not shared. Opportunities missed. I’ve got more, but you get the point.
Here are some strategies to move your company’s “accountability” commitment away from lip service and springing leaks to no-compromise thinking and behavior:
- Look in the mirror first: The most common knee-jerk reaction to accountability issues sounds like, “They need to change…” A company’s accountability thinking and behavior originates with its leaders. Before you start pointing your finger or casting blame, you must own your contribution to your company’s accountability issues. You need to clean up your act first in order for others to follow.
- Designate “accountability” as a core value: If accountability is important to you, make it important to everyone in the company. Create an “accountability code of conduct” that bullet-points what high accountability thinking and behavior looks like in your company. Yes, you need to make this a collaborative effort with participants from every sector of your company. Here’s one to get you started, “Everyone is responsible for our success.”
- Celebrate accountability thinking and behavior: If you celebrate hitting goal, why aren’t you celebrating the accountabilities that made it happen? Achieving a company goal takes discipline, commitment, teamwork, structure, organization, information flow and drive – none of which would occur in the absence of accountability. Celebrate it. Praise it. Identify it. Reward it.
- Stop accepting mediocrity: Yeah, it’s happening in your company every day. Mediocrity, or as I like to call it, “The relentless pursuit of average,” is the by-product of indifference. Indifference is nothing more than an individual’s conscious decision to perform at a level below his or her capabilities – at the expense of everyone else. When indifference collides with high accountability it will lose every time. For this very reason, there is opportunity and growth potential that is slipping (or gushing) through the cracks because leaders compromise when it comes to accountability.
Accountability is a massive and complex topic with many twists and turns. But in the end, it all comes down to the thinking and behavior choices you make as a leader. The defining factor is whether those choices lean toward accountability or compromise. Which direction is your accountability meter leaning?
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Neil Ducoff, Founder & CEO of Strategies and author of No-Compromise Leadership
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