3 Proven Rules to Increase Accountability as a Leader

Red figure of the leader in the center of the circle of people

Accountability as a leadership skill is among the most difficult to be highly effective when you solely rely on instincts. Most leaders struggle with accountability not because they don’t have the talent to be effective but because they don’t know what it actually is. 

Accountability is one of these words that has lost its meaning because of overuse. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people. Accountable leaders provide a path for personal improvement and team performance. 

Accountability is an advantage; make it your obligation.

In a best-case scenario, managers and executives have a lot of training and experience to learn, develop and mold their accountability skills. However, when business and HR executives expect individual contributors to be highly effective managers on day one after their promotion, it sets both parties up to be disappointed.   

What most managers do is rely on their instincts when it comes to accountability. While instincts can undoubtedly be good, just because you have them doesn’t mean they’re always right. 

Just because you have instincts as a leader doesn’t mean they are always right. 

Research for the SkillsLoft assessment has shown accountability is one of the top 4 weakest leadership competencies in managers, only behind listening, empathy and communication. So clearly, if you struggle with accountability as a leadership skill, you are not alone. So if you are ready to get better and take some steps to increase accountability in your leadership approach, follow these rules.  

Relationships Come First

Joe Maddon, a successful Major League Baseball manager and current skipper for the Los Angeles Angels, has a unique way of leveraging accountability. When one of his players violates a team rule or isn’t meeting a standard, he asked the player to purchase a nice bottle of wine, then they open it and have a glass or two in a one-on-one meeting. Thus he’s dedicating time to the player to have the disapproval dialogue while at the same time creating a deep sense of connection between himself and the player.

While this isn’t a strategy every leader can use, Maddon understands this critical leadership lesson regarding accountability. 

“Leaders must connect before they correct.”  

The reason this rule exists is that “rules before relationships lead to rebellion.” The stronger your relationship with team members, the more comfortable and more effective accountability can be. 

No Standards, No Accountability

One of the most significant mistakes leaders make is not setting clear standards or assuming people know them. By definition, standards define what good looks like. The way I want you to think about them is slightly different. The best leaders don’t define what good looks like; they define what great looks like. When you define what great looks like for your team and communicate it correctly, these standards will produce behaviors and habits that are vital to achieving results.  

They also become the foundation for what you hold your people accountable for. Without their presence, it’s nearly impossible to be an accountable leader and to have an accountable culture.  

Praise and Recognition Count as Well

Most people think of accountability in a negative way and believe because they are willing to have difficult dialogues or fire someone, they are good at it. The truth is, accountability isn’t only focused on the negative; firing someone is one of the weakest forms of it. To go a step further, accountability can be used to praise and recognize team members who meet and exceed the standards as well.  

When team members go above and beyond the standard, sharing praise and recognition released dopamine in the brain, making them feel good. Beyond that, dopamine has also been proven to create innovative thinking and promote problem-solving at work. Those small recognitions make people want to keep emulating the behavior that caused them to give it.  

An excellent way for you to think about this is what I call the Constructive Praise Meter, or “CPM.” Over the course of a month, a leader should balance between 40% and 60% of delivering constructive feedback and praise. If at any point that meter dips too much in one direction over an extended period, accountability gets out of balance.    

Closing 

The absolute best part about accountable cultures is that they produce great outcomes, and team members end up embracing them. But accountable cultures don’t happen by themselves. They are created by leaders who work hard at developing their accountability skills daily.

How do you raise the accountability level on your team or organization?

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.