Leadership and Accountability

I had an interesting conversation with a top community leader the other day. I had never had a chance to have an in-depth conversation with him before, so I relished the chance to learn more about him and his path to success.

I learned how he had worked his way up in various companies before achieving the position he now holds. He made some tough decisions and had to overcome some difficult situations along the way. I often hear those types of stories, and so I was not surprised at the types of stories he shared.

What I found fascinating was that he admitted that he does not like to be held accountable. All of the executives with whom I work realize that accountability will help them achieve even greater success. Some of them call me “The Accountability Queen.” Yet here I was, talking with an accomplished senior executive who shared that he intentionally avoids situations where he can be held accountable. What I found even more interesting was that when I probed deeper, it became apparent that he attempts to hold his direct reports accountable within his organization. In effect, he is not practicing what he preaches, or he feels he is exempt from his own rules. That’s not the best way to motivate others! Not surprisingly, his attempts to hold his direct reports accountable often fall flat, which frustrates him. He does not seem to understand how his refusal to be held accountable may be negatively impacting the organization as a whole. Sadly, I suspect he will learn that lesson the hard way.

Some of you will tell me that you hold yourself accountable, and that external accountability is overrated. I’m good at holding myself accountable because I have a high goal-orientation. And yet from my experience with my groups, I can tell you that my success rate is much higher when the group holds me accountable than when I rely on myself. I wish the accomplished leader with whom I met would give it a try and see how it would propel him forward and make his organization more successful!

2 thoughts on “Leadership and Accountability

  1. Cindy, I completely agree with your points about the positive effect of accountability. I like the idea of taking the concept of accountability beyond just the leader, making accountability a norm in the organization. Open book management principles provides organizational accountability, with clarity of goals, performance transparency, aligned incentives and ongoing learning. A good starting place is captured in this recent Harvard Business Review article that my partner John Case and I wrote: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/a-winning-culture-keeps-score/.
    Over the past 20 years, I have seen this provide powerful improvements in business results and the lives of the employees that drive those results, in companies that range from small / medium sized privately held companies to large companies like Southwest Airlines, Capital One, Carlson Travel and BHP Billiton. More information can be found at http://www.openbookcoaching.com. I suspect you agree. Best wishes, Bill

  2. I worked for someone like this once. I learned what I could from and completed what I felt was an adequate tour of duty. I have never been in an abusive relationship before, but I imagine it looks something like this.

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