Personal Accountability
As discussed last week, it is difficult, if not impossible, for leaders to lead others if we do not lead ourselves.

Whether implicitly or explicitly, leaders are accountable – we assume responsibility for the outcomes of our teams.  For achieving the organization’s goals through the execution of others.


What is Personal Accountability?

Personal accountability is a step beyond the expectations of the role.  It is about our own personal commitment to getting the job done.  Regardless of who is doing the work.

Leaders that demonstrate personal accountability take responsibility for mistakes and failures, while ensuring recognition of those that contribute to success.  There is no blame or excuses when things go wrong.

Great leaders provide a safe environment where team members can grow, take risks and learn from mistakes.  If a manager blames an employee for a mistake, how comfortable will that individual be with taking another risk?

Over time, in a blame game environment, employees will do exactly what they are told and only that.  That type of environment squashes innovative thinking and risk-taking, creating a stagnant environment with a CYA culture.


Creating an Accountability Environment

As leaders, we provide our team’s context or environment.  We clearly state, and reinforce those statements by modeling, the kinds of behaviors and actions we want taken.  If we see unexpected behaviors on the team, we have to ask ourselves three questions:

  • What have we modeled?  Are we demonstrating behaviors that would cause an employee to think this is okay?  “Do as I do” is much more powerful than “do as I say.”
  • What has been modeled for this individual to this point?  Maybe this person is new to the team.  Maybe we are.  Either way, there have been other models for behavior to this point that may not align with expectations going forward.  Setting initial expectations with new teams or team members can go a long way in setting the tone for leadership within the group.
  • What can we do differently?  Every day is a new day.  We can move forward by providing clear expectations and subsequently modeling those expectations for the team.

The same can be said for results.  The questions we can ask ourselves if we are not getting the results we expect are – what was requested and how was it presented?  what did the team/individual hear?  what can be communicated differently next time to improve outcomes?


The Blame Game

Notice the questions all put the ownership on the leader for understanding what has been said and/or perceived to this point, and determining what might be changed.

Nowhere in here is a question about who to blame.  Leaders shoulder the blame.  Every time.  That’s what personal accountability is about – owning the ability to affect outcomes, including the things we can do differently if the outcomes are not what we expect.

If we cannot shoulder the blame, and pass it to others, what are we modeling for our people?  What kinds of leaders are we creating?  We’re not.  We’re eroding accountability, which ultimately erodes the ability to deliver.


Looking Ahead Instead of Running in Circles

Someone once asked me why I don’t spend more time covering my butt, to make sure I stay out of trouble.  I told her that if I’m spending all my time looking at my rear, I’m will either go in circles or trip over my own feet.

Instead, I’m looking forward with confidence that I can take on the obstacles ahead and navigate my team to success.  The team is focused forward, knowing I will lend a hand as there are stumbles or falls, instead of looking for whodunit.  We are moving together quickly towards the finish line.


Blame vs Accountability

There have been times when it might have been easier to do things differently.  A manager once asked me who was responsible for pulling down our financial application right before a holiday weekend.

It would have been simple to provide the name.  It was a huge mistake that took days and dozens of people to resolve.  Whoever was involved would be at great risk, but I did not need to think twice.  My only response was:  “I am.”

My manager knew darn well I did not have the technical ability or access, but it was on my watch.  I might as well have.  Instead of protecting myself and deflecting to the person who actually made the mistake, I owned it.  I demonstrated my personal accountability for ALL the actions of my team, even the ones that could get me fired.  Especially the ones that could get me fired.


Building Great Teams and Leaders

As leaders, if we aspire to having high performing teams, who move forward with confidence in the face of challenging times, we have to model and encourage that behavior.  We have to reject the notion of “whodunit.”  We have to shoulder blame and share recognition.

If we model and inspire personal accountability, we won’t only build high performing teams.  We will build future leaders.


What does accountability mean to you?  How do you live leadership through accountability?   Please share your comments below and keep the conversation going.