Accountability: A Leadership Test

I have found that for leaders, including many CEO’s, holding people accountable is their Achilles heel. They feel uncomfortable and shy away from confronting employees about their behaviors. They procrastinate instead of getting to the (sometimes difficult) conversation.

The consequences of not taking any action are significant. At an individual level, people are allowed to continue their bad behavior, assuming it is appropriate conduct. At a team level, the attitudes of other team members plummet as they see coworkers getting away with misconduct. At the leadership level it disintegrates the respect and authority leaders wield over their team. Finally, at an organizational level: companies that do not hold their employees liable for their actions tend to deliver mediocre results.

So if it is this important, what stops us from holding people accountable? One of the main reasons is that we are simply afraid of doing it. The moment you think of having a conversation with an employee about his behavior, that little nagging voice in your head pops up saying that maybe this whole situation is not that bad. We find excuses – I don’t want to create a tense atmosphere, I don’t want to spoil any relationships with my employees and mainly, I don’t want to create a scene!

My advice to all leaders who find this difficult is… stop being a WUSS! Handling emotions and being out of your comfort zone is part of the job title. Holding people accountable is the key to delivering desired results. Don’t forget that it is your reputation on the line.

Here are a couple of tips on how to go about it:

1. Focus more on behaviors and less on measurables:
It is much easier to call an employee out for not delivering against his targets, milestones, deadlines and / or budgets. However, often it is already too late. It is better to point out their specific negative behaviors, as this drives their actions and their actions drive their results.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate:
Holding people accountable is 80% communication and 20% discipline. Explain the consequence of their behavior and show them how to solve the issue. There is less room for any future misunderstandings when having an open conversation.

3. Ask questions:
Ask your employees what is happening and why. Ask them to identify what they think is the issue and what steps they feel are necessary in resolving the matter.

4. Remember what it is all about!
Just when that little voice in your head starts talking, remember that this is the greatest contribution you can make to yourself, the individual, the rest of your team and the organization. Push the voice aside and take action.

It does not have to be a conversation about blame and misplaced anger. Instead, trying to resolve issues through open and honest communication will turn out to be more productive than simply ignoring the matter or taking any drastic measures without talking things through.

– Paul Keijzer

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4 thoughts on “Accountability: A Leadership Test

  1. Paul thanks for this article. It makes so much sense and I’m sure many people in leadership roles out there have moments of struggle when it comes to difficult conversations. The key is to recognize it does not have to be a difficult conversation, it can simply be an opportunity to be/do things even better.

  2. Great article Paul. Thanks for posting. Accountability is a topic right up my street and it is good to see others recognizing the challenge that we face in upping the level of accountability in business to meet the expectations of our various stakeholders. I have re-posted the article on our ‘challenging coaching’ Linkedin group and it will be interesting to see the what other tips the executive coaching community can add as to how to hold others accountable

    • Thanks for the feedback John. Am sure other coaches have got similar experiences and am looking forward to their suggestions!

  3. You are spot on Paul. One reason why people avoid such discussions is that they are not good at it; or their previous experiences did not produce positive results. Maybe you should throw some light on that as well.

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