Four Things We Must Hold Leaders Accountable to Do

When we talk about “accountability” in the workplace, it brings to mind performance evaluations and management assessments. But accountability is so much more—and with the prevalence of social media and social video sharing, corporate leaders are increasingly being taken to task for failing to demonstrate this all-important trait.

Take the recent (and viral) United Airlines debacle in which a security officer dragged a passenger off an overbooked flight, an action that United’s CEO initially defended. The incident is just one example of the question of accountability that spans the workplace and personal travel, and illustrates a real concern: How do we hold leaders accountable?

First, let’s define accountability. It’s not just taking the blame when things go wrong, but rather “delivering on a commitment,” writes Peter Bregman in the Harvard Business Review. “It’s about responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.”

These days, it seems as if accountability is under-applied to the performance of leading. For our businesses and careers to thrive, however, that needs to change. Here are four things we must hold leaders accountable to do—well and consistently:

  1. Effectively Manage Change

It is a leader’s job to develop strategy and manage change thoughtfully over time. As I’ve said before, great leaders inspire, and then get out of the way. Leadership is about painting the bigger vision for what an organization can accomplish—and then providing the inspiration, guidance, and coaching to help talented employees make that vision a reality. Leadership is not about micromanaging or passive aggressiveness, which is especially true during times of change, which are happening more frequently as technology improves so rapidly.

  1. Support and Streamline Communication

Strategic leaders need to communicate effectively up, down, and across business lines—ensuring that everyone in the organization is on the same page regarding the goals they are trying to accomplish.

It is helpful for leaders to schedule monthly feedback meetings in which groups of a dozen or so employees meet with company leadership to review the organization’s mission, vision, and values. They use that time to discuss the practices that are consistent with those values–and the practices that aren’t. Employees then have the opportunity to suggest changes to foster greater alignment between mission and practice.

The feedback process forces leaders to be serious about their deepest beliefs,” says Dr. Roger Allen, a co-founder of the Center for Organizational Design. “As they do, they gain the trust, credibility, and loyalty of their employees.”

  1. Encourage Collaboration Among and Within Teams

Leaders must bring people together and build effective and efficient teams. This involves investing in team-building activities, and providing professional development opportunities to help employees learn how to better negotiate and communicate with fellow team members.

A key to effective collaboration is creating a culture of “Total Transparency” at work. A transparent organization “has the courage to see, face, and overcome its problems,” says Mike Henry, founder of Lead Change Group. He recommends companies adopt the “7 Rules for Total Transparency” outlined in his colleague John Bernard’s “Business at the Speed of NOW”

  1. Seek facts not blame
  2. Ask for and offer help
  3. Speak the truth, respectfully
  4. Think organizationally, act departmentally
  5. Engage fully
  6. Laugh and play
  7. Share leadership


  1. Develop Future Leaders

Coach, delegate, and develop leaders to ensure the company will be able to succeed in the future. Indeed, it is a leader’s responsibility to utilize forward-thinking when building a culture of accountability in his or her organization. This involves working together to develop a detailed strategic plan and then outlining action steps each team member must commit to on a quarterly basis.

When it comes to developing this culture of accountability, little things matter—so make sure team members arrive at meetings promptly and follow through on their deliverables by set deadlines. Make sure consequences are in place to ensure they keep their word, and that you aren’t inadvertently training your team members not to listen to you.

“If there is a pattern of broken agreements, confront the employee and consider asking them to take some time off, at their expense, to think about how they are ‘showing up’ now and how they want to show up in the future,” recommends Bill Dann, CEO of Professional Growth Systems.

Dann also recommends reviewing progress on commitments as a team to encourage accountability—since no one wants to be the one team member who isn’t getting the work done.

We are duty-bound to hold our leaders accountable for their actions. If we fail to do so, then the failures of our leaders become our failures, too–and we risk them making the big mistakes that will cost us tremendously in the long run.

Photo Credit: alkhaleej-online Flickr via Compfight cc