Accountability: The Achilles Heel of Leadership

Let’s face it – leadership is both complicated AND challenging. Leaders must master many different skills – direct communication, building trust, Emotional Intelligence, giving feedback and managing differences to name just a few. When leaders practice these behaviors, their influence and productivity greatly increase.

However, one leadership mistake most commonly leads to ineffective leadership – failure to hold others accountable. Even the best leadership techniques will be “hamstrung” if leaders fail to hold themselves and others accountable. RightPath believes that building a culture of accountability is the key that enables all the other leadership behaviors to work effectively.

A 2012 study on accountability published in the Harvard Business Review examined feedback from over 5,400 upper-level leaders from the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. They found that 46% of upper-level leaders practiced “too little” accountability. Nearly half of senior leaders are not holding others accountable! Surprisingly, the same percentage holds true regardless of whether a manager is considering his direct reports (eg. “I need to hold my team accountable”) or whether a team member is considering his manager (eg. “I wish my boss would hold me accountable”).

Why do leaders struggle to hold others accountable? Often the problem is fear of conflict; leaders don’t want to be the “bad guy”. Others blindly hope that their team is as engaged and motivated as they are and ignore signs to the contrary.

How should individuals strengthen their ability to hold others (and themselves) accountable? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Look at the positive side of accountability. Rather than focusing on what goes wrong, accountability defines success and enables leaders to celebrate “wins”.
  2. Clearly define goals and milestones. Being able to measure outcomes in specific terms (with deadlines and metrics) removes ambiguity when defining success (or failure).
  3. Minimize the stigma of failure. View failures as learning opportunities (fail forward) by analyzing what went wrong rather than placing blame.
  4. View accountability as a process of continual improvement rather than a “pass/fail” assessment.

How are you doing? If you are part of the 46% of leaders who who are “hamstrung” by not holding others accountable, try the above suggestions to increase personal and team effectiveness.

To learn how RightPath can help your company strengthen its leadership effectiveness, including creating a culture of accountability, visit The Leader As Coach portion of our website.