Do your heart race and your muscles tense when you hear the word “accountability”? 

Does being accountable bring the image of someone looking over your shoulder keeping you in line when you miss a step or make a mistake? 

For some people, it means having assistance in keeping on the right path or doing the right things. For others, it means taking responsibility for their personal growth and being persons of integrity. As a leader, in addition to those things, it means taking responsibility for your decisions and for the decisions of the people entrusted to your care.

An Accountable Leader

As easy as it is to discuss accountability partners and accountability groups, which are good and necessary for personal growth and development, it is not always comfortable to be an accountable leader.   

What does being an accountable leader mean? 

Well, it means being responsible for decisions made, actions taken, and assignments completed.  As a leader, it is important that you hold those with whom you are working accountable for their work. But it is just as important for you to be held accountable for your leadership. Thomas Paine wrote, “Anyone holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

Accountable leadership:

  • Builds trust – The most important result of trust is the development of relationships
  • Inspires confidence – When relationships are healthy, accountability provides the people with whom you are working the opportunity to grow in skills and confidence. Accountability is not to be used for controlling behavior.
  • Creates hope – When people are growing together, they are excited about moving toward a common goal together. Moving toward a common goal creates hope for the future. 

Four Characteristics of Accountable Leaders

With that in mind, let’s consider what it might mean for you to be an accountable leader. To be an accountable leader means:

1. You are a person of hope. 

You are leading the people entrusted to your care to the destination of trust, compassion, stability, and hope.

  • Focus on your purpose. Where are you going? It is necessary that you know the mission, the purpose, or the goal toward which you are leading the people. Your focus on the purpose will help you keep on the path when difficulties arise. 
  • Know and name your current reality. Where are you now? What is your context? It is necessary that you have a clear understanding of your starting point. If you don’t know where you are, how can you get to where you are going? As simple as it seems, it matters where you start. The more you know about the context, the more clearly you can focus upon your purpose. As important as it is to know the current reality, it is equally important to name the current reality for the people with whom you are working. Remember, clear is kind. If you are fuzzy about your context, you will have difficulty reaching your goal or achieving your purpose. 
  • Provide clarity on how you achieve your goal. Work with your people to develop the specific steps or actions you need to make it from where you are to where you want to be. What obstacles are in the way? What do you need to do to avoid or to address the obstacles?
  • Again, clear is kind. Be clear when answering questions. If you don’t know the answer, either work with your people to discover the answer or connect with someone who does know the answer. As the leader you are navigating the obstacles, so everyone arrives at the destination.
  • Meet the challenge of where you are going and make it a possibility. You know where you are, where you are going, and you are navigating the obstacles.  So, as you go, hold the purpose out in front, assist people to take the necessary steps to get there.  Provide manageable steps and celebrate each step when accomplished. 
  • Develop checkpoints, or places to check your progress, along the way. Hold yourself and your people accountable for meeting each step. At each checkpoint review and evaluate.  Keep the purpose, the goal, in front of you. Celebrate each step that gets you closer to your goal. Ask yourself and the people with whom you are working what has gone well, what have they learned, and what needs to improve to move forward. 

2. You are not afraid to be vulnerable

To be a person of hope, who leads toward the goal, you must risk trusting the people with whom you work. You must own up to your commitments and promises and answer to the decisions you have made. In other words, not throwing anyone under the bus.

On one hand, establish clear goals. Be vulnerable. When the goals are fuzzy, admit you have created confusion. Take responsibility for the frustration your fuzziness creates. Remember, it is difficult to be accountable when you don’t know what you are being accountable for.

On the other hand, be honest and constructive when you know that people you are depending upon are having difficulty moving toward your goal. If you know where you are, where you are going, and the steps to get there, be vulnerable enough to risk holding people accountable to their part of the work.

3. You ask for help when it is needed

Even though you are diligent in creating a clear path, there will be bumps along the way. Don’t ignore the obstacles by pushing through.  If you are not clear on how to proceed, ask for help.

So, don’t let your pride get in the way. It is okay to ask for help before you a situation a crisis. Jim Collins, in his book From Good To Great, says that Level 5 leaders put the team’s vision and goals above their own needs. Asking for help does not mean you are not accountable. In fact, it shows just the opposite. It shows you committed to the people you are leading as well as to the goal to which you are leading them. 

4. You provide honest and constructive feedback 

Believe it or not, this aspect of accountable leadership is often the most difficult. To get to where you are going means you must provide others the opportunity to be responsible in reaching your goal. The best way to do this is through honest and constructive feedback. Feedback allows the people with whom you are working to know how they are doing. Everyone wants to know the truth. Confirming with them that their work is hitting the mark is helpful. Helping someone see where they are falling short of expectations is also helpful. Honest feedback builds trust.

Constructive feedback provides for improvement.  This is one place keeping your focus upon the purpose is necessary. Provide feedback along the way in light of your goal. It should be a continuous process. It is while you are navigating the obstacles that people need to know what needs to be adjusted or when to pivot. When you provide honest and constructive feedback, you empower the people with whom you are working.  In fact, you are allowing everyone to be accountable. 

Your Next Step

I’m not convinced you need an accountability partner or accountability group to become a courageous and effective leader. But I am convinced you need someone who you trust to give you honest and constructive feedback regarding your leadership.  I know you resist it. So do I. But to become the leader needed in today’s world, you and I must be courageous enough to risk becoming who God has created us to be. 

What one step will you take to grow in your leadership this week? If you want to be held accountable, let me know what step you are taking. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Jessica Moffatt joins us in discussing Accountability and Courageous Leadership. If you have not been a LeaderCast listener, you want to start with this one. Check out Episode 173 of LeaderCast. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Again, who you are is how you lead.  

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