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Leadership accountability — a positive, simple approach

Accountability in leadership is not a new mindset, as many books and schools over the years have presented. From J. Paul Getty to Rudy Giuliani, leaders of all backgrounds and intentions have attempted to define the subject.

Yet for the many thoughts presented there has been a drift from self-accountability to accountability throughout the entire organization. Over the past couple of decades, a shift has occurred which has made accountability a negative and fearful concept.

True accountability needs to be a defined mindset and instigated by the leader themselves. This mindset must be inverted and promoted in a more positive light in order to be effective.

Anyone who absolves themselves of responsibility cannot effectively lead others, but sets a tone for blame-shifting. A leader of this type poses performance and financial challenges before their organization through distrust and forced compliance due to consequences.

Conversely, a leader that effectively holds themselves accountable will see the following positive results through their organizational influence:

  • Employee engagement — staff will be more willing to put in the necessary effort when they know their leader(s) are “open book” and willing to accept correction.
  • Cohesive team alignment — by holding themselves responsible, leaders will adopt the organization’s core values as their own and fold the rest of their team(s) into those values.
  • Enhanced trust — they will build lasting trust as someone who will correct any errors and take responsibility for lapses in judgment.
  • Sharpened skills by working within a behavioral framework — a leader will grow in resourceful and creative ways by working within an established model of conduct and develop business in that context.

There appears to be a surge of demand for self-accountability again, as indicated by many news articles and blog posts are attempting to address the lack of leadership accountability in many industries.

Accountability measures don’t need to be complex or burdensome. Here are some simple and effective means in which one can become an accountable leader:

  • A willingness to be held accountable. This is the key factor every leader must have. Without a willingness to put themselves in this position, any other method will be met with skepticism and cease to work. An accountable leader allows themselves to be exposed to criticism, checks and balances, and the full responsibility of their actions and intentions.
  • Having the correct intentions and perspective. One’s intentions must align with the organization’s values. If the leader’s perspective is to improve through developing and accountability, and their values are aligned with that of the organizations, they will have no hidden agendas and open themselves up to checks and balances.
  • Communicate clearly your expectations for yourself — to everyone. By informing your people with what you are doing, one can create a better culture of trust. This will work in turn as your people will want to be with a transparent leader who is willing to take valuable input from others. This also needs to be an ongoing and perpetual communication if it is to be genuine and have lasting results.
  • Establish systems of checks and balances. One leader developed a process in which the department’s financials were reconciled by two of his subordinates. He informed everyone that because his predecessors fudged the books, he wanted everyone to know that he was above-board in this area. By setting up simple systems or procedures, one can ensure that accountability is just as much a practice as it is an intention.
  • Set up a network of internal and external accountability partners. Internal accountability partners will see a leader’s daily actions and be able to quickly identify when they are going off course. External partners will see things above any potential smokescreens and organizational blinders. A good leader will set up at least a couple of internal and external people to check on their integrity regularly.
  • Accept all feedback, correction and consequences. This involves having a consistent attitude that allows leaders to be thankful and to learn and grow. They will not dismiss feedback they disagree with but will embrace it as an opportunity to take advice for improvement.

Accountability, above all else, is not merely a means of keeping one honest and in check. It’s the willingness to be of increasing value to the organization and the people one serves. Keeping it simple and transparent will reinforce staff engagement and team alignment while strengthening the leader’s character, credibility and influence in their world.

Paul LaRue is an experienced leader in the hospitality, entertainment and health care industries. He has served on several senior leadership teams and has mentored successful leaders in private, government and nonprofit sectors. He is a current Instigator for Lead Change Group, and his blog The Upwards Leader is written to inspire and encourage leaders to increase their leadership influence. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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