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  • Accepting responsibility for the outcomes expected of you, both good and bad.

  • Not blaming others or things that were out of your control.

When we write position descriptions or try to define the kind of person we want and need on our teams, that word “accountable” shows up frequently. It must be seen in all the leaders, including each one of us. Until you take responsibility, you are a victim. And being a victim is the exact opposite of being a leader. Great leaders take initiative to influence the outcome and take responsibility for the results. Accountability is exactly why leadership is so tough and exactly why there are so few real leaders.Marlene Chism, a leader/author recognized for her understanding of the needs for accountability and how to get there. She highlights four reasons leaders struggle with responsibility and accountability:

Not understanding the distinction between responsibility and accountability. Failing to understand a chief reason leaders struggle. Responsibility comes from the heart and accountability from the head. You accept responsibility, but accountability can feel forced on you – being held accountable suggests punishment and blame.

Not having appropriate support or resources. When leaders have responsibility for a job and are measured on their effectiveness, they may avoid accountability if they’re not confident they can actually accomplish the job. Sometimes they feel they don’t have the right support or resources to succeed.

They have a skills gap. Employees have all experienced leaders at all who didn’t respond to communications, dropped balls, and made promises that weren’t fulfilled without continual reminders. These patterns indicate a potential accountability problems with due to not having the right skill set to be effective in their position. They lack discipline. Sometimes leaders are given too much power, and because no one seems to be holding themaccountable, they lose awareness about their own lack of discipline, which spirals into the entire organization.Chism says the more these problems are tolerated by senior leadership, the more profoundly they can negatively impact company culture, and the more likely the problems will spread.

A desire to blame others is part of the human condition but blaming isn’t a luxury leaders can afford. We must assume responsibility, because as long as the problem is someone else’s, we will not grow or correct the problem. there’s no opportunity for personal development or growth. If employees aren’t conducting themselves appropriately, leaders must to take action to correct the problem, rather than simply pointing it out.A growing and effective leader can ask, “What can this employee problem teach me about my leadership weaknesses?” Organizations and leaders that consciously decide to develop and support responsibility at all levels experience much more success at creating a healthy culture of accountability.

The goal is for individuals all across the organization to reliably deliver on their commitments, showing they can be trusted to do what they say they’ll do. Leaders further demonstrate accountability by taking responsibility for the outcomes of their actions and decisions and transforming effort into results. Phil Geldart, founder and CEO of Eagle’s Flight, explains in his book, In Your Hands: The Behaviors of a World Class Leader, leaders at all levels of the organization can demonstrate accountability. Leaders can set the performance standard others want to emulate by the quality of their decisions and actions. He says, “Let the quality of your work and decisions be the gold standard against which the performance of others comes to be measured.”“Gold standard” means of such a high quality that others see it as the best. As far as a gold standard of accountability, it is the best possible combination of behavior and judgment, compelling others to follow it. Geldart suggests these elements to develop a gold standard:

Lead by Example - when individuals demonstrate accountability through their actions, they are setting the pace for leadership and performance excellence. They’re also showing others how to be accountable for doing what they say they’ll do. Leaders can be pacesetters and demonstrate accountability by exhibiting the following behaviors:

Discipline - staying on track and not getting derailed by competing priorities or desires

Integrity - being honest about the likelihood of delivering on commitments, and apologizing when something goes wrong

Execution - mastering new skills and behaviors and striving to achieve executional excellence.These leaders follow a focus on the end goal rather than on the problem. They seek inputfrom others – bosses, peers, direct reports, friends and partners –when things don’t go so well so the next time they can go better. Accountable leaders look for ways to do things differently in the future. They look for ways and times to initiate change that improve the ways to handle situations, make decisions, and develop talent.Accountable leaders do not avoid responsibility, they do not procrastinate, and they do not under or over commit. They know when to say no and they know when to ask for more. How do they do that? Before agreeing to new tasks, new items to deliver, new to-do’s, they review their schedules and evaluate for sure whether they have the physical time required to complete the work on time in a quality manner. Accountable leaders provide their own insurance that they won’t let promised work go undone.

Accountable leaders do not blame others when things go sideways. They are fixers. They immediately go to work on making things right. These leaders accurately assess and understand where the organization already excels and where it has opportunity. They ask questions and they find the best answers.Accountability goes beyond individual actions and decisions. Accountable leaders assume ownership for the performance of their teams. Former US President Truman was known for assuming accountability for the performance of his administration. His famous statement was “the buck stops here.” An accountable leader takes responsibility. Taking responsibility can be frightening, especially for new leaders. But it definitely is better than having it forced on you. Until you take responsibility, you are a victim, a martyr. That’s the exact opposite of a leader.

So how can you become more accountable?

  • Start with honesty. Set aside personal pride, admit your mistakes, and be completely honest with yourself. See your own role in a situation accurately.

  • Willingly say “I’m sorry” when you are responsible for something going wrong. A real apology focuses on making amends, committing to what needs to be done to fix the situation, and executing on it when promised.

  • Seek input from others – all of those around you can give you a 360 degree look at how you are currently handling situations and how you might improve.

Accountability makes a difference. It builds trust within teams, creates respect between leaders and employees, and promotes an essential sense of fairness. Accountability is about a leader’s overall commitment to excellence – elevating her/his game, keeping herself/himself improving and fired up. That is the mark of a true leader.

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