Accountability in team leadership

All organisations need great team leaders; without leadership there is no great organisation.

Our definition of Leadership is: ‘holding the Vision, enabling Partnership, and empowering others to be Accountable’.

The foundation of all Leadership is Accountability. Accountability is ‘the willingness to make commitments and hold oneself to account for them, regardless of the circumstances’. There are two aspects to the definition: your willingness to make binding commitments for yourself, and your relationship with the circumstances that surround you.

Are you willing to be accountable?

The first step in taking accountability is to choose to be accountable for an outcome, irrespective of whether you know how to achieve it, or believe you can do it. Gandhi did not know how to achieve independence for India when he assumed leadership for the movement, and there were many times when he doubted his own ability. But he chose to be accountable for the outcome, spoke out, and continued to stand for his vision in the face of all the circumstances.

And it is a choice. There are many things we would like to achieve, or to have happen in the world. But we do not choose to be accountable for them – accountability starts with the choice.

But what about the circumstances?

The second aspect of being accountable is your relationship with the circumstances. Many people resist taking accountability for an outcome because they believe circumstances make it impossible to achieve. Take the issue of lateness. A client, embarrassed by his lateness for an important event, once said, “but it’s impossible to arrive anywhere on time in the South of England these days, because of the traffic on the M25”. He seriously believed this was true – it was impossible to be on time!

It took much discussion and exploration before he recognised that the block lay in himself – there were others in his team, living and working in the same area, who were never late for meetings. Indeed, he discovered that with certain things at stake, he too could transcend the ‘impossible’ traffic and arrive on time – he had never missed a flight from Gatwick or Heathrow in 15 years!

So are you being accountable?

The interaction of the two factors: the willingness to take accountability, and the relationship with the surrounding circumstances, gives us a way of challenging ourselves, and measuring our behaviour on a scale of levels from 1 to 3:

Level 1: Resists/avoids being held to account, ‘because of the circumstances’. You’ll hear, “It’s not my job”; “She made me do it”; “It isn’t my fault”.

Level 2: Willing to be held to account by others, ‘subject to the circumstances’: “It was the traffic”; “I couldn’t, because…”; “They didn’t come back to me in time“.

Level 3: Willing to be held to account by others, ‘regardless of the circumstances’. No excuses – ever!

At Level 1, people resist and avoid accountability or hide behind the circumstances. All of us do this in some area of our life or work, but somebody who is being fully accountable will be honest about whether they have made a conscious choice to do so! At Level 2 you will hear a lot of excuses – people at this level are difficult, if not impossible, to manage. A fully accountable person will never believe the reason for failing to deliver on a commitment is an excuse for doing so.

People at Level 3 can be difficult to have as team members if they extend this level of accountability to ‘forgetting’ to inform others of their actions and results. Provided they are willing to keep others informed, they can be solid team colleagues. At Level 3 people willingly make promises and are happy to be called to account if they don’t deliver. They are a joy to manage and to have as team colleagues.

How can you use this?

This raises the interesting issue of how to use this in leading others: be very careful! Work on yourself first, and be scrupulously honest about where you are and are not behaving at an appropriate level of accountability. Your management and coaching of others will only be effective if it’s honestly based on your own experience. No-one is above behaving at Level 1!

Can you be held accountable?

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