Accountability occurs when individuals reliably deliver on their commitments, showing others they can be trusted to do what they say they’ll do. Leaders further demonstrate accountability by taking responsibility for the outcomes of their actions and decisions and successfully transforming effort into results. As Phil Geldart, founder and CEO of Eagle’s Flight, explains in his book, In Your Hands: The Behaviors of a World Class Leader, leaders at all levels of the organization can demonstrate accountability. Through their behavior and quality of decision-making, leaders can set the performance standard others want to emulate.
“Let the quality of your work and decisions be the gold standard against which the performance of others comes to be measured.”
“Gold standard” accountability is of such a high quality that others see it as the best possible combination of behavior and judgment, compelling others to follow it. It consists of performance excellence and the mastery of the key skills and behaviors necessary for any job. Drawing on some of the insights from In Your Hands, here are 5 ways to build “gold standard” accountability in leaders at every level of the organization:
Lead by Example
When individuals demonstrate accountability through their actions, they are setting the pace for leadership and performance excellence. They’re also showing others how to be accountable for doing what they say they’ll do. Leaders can be pacesetters and demonstrate accountability by exhibiting the following behaviors:
- Discipline - staying on track and not getting derailed by competing priorities or desires
- Integrity – being honest about the likelihood of delivering on commitments, and apologizing when something goes wrong
- Execution - mastering new skills and behaviors and striving to achieve executional excellence
Develop Accountable Leaders
Training in specific skills and competencies can help leaders understand what it means to be accountable and which behaviors help to demonstrate accountability. By building accountability into your leadership development program, leaders at all levels will learn how to deliver on commitments and then see the importance of being reliable and trustworthy in the eyes of others. Leadership development can also help managers learn how to set and communicate expectations, and how to hold their direct reports accountable for the results they commit to.
Communicate and Share Information
Demonstrating accountability and ensuring it in others also involves sharing information and knowledge that will help others know how to behave in certain scenarios. Individuals learn by watching others and practicing desired behaviors, but they also learn from the advice and guidance of others who are already achieving “gold standard” accountability. For those who manage others, it is also important to communicate the importance of results, so that effort does not get confused with outcomes.
Build Individual Understanding
At the outset of any initiative or activity, it’s important for individuals to understand expectations, the resources and support available, and what they need to do to be accountable for their part. This helps to avoid the pitfall of over-committing and under-delivering. Some of the tools that can help support individual understanding of the need to be accountable include:
- Mentorship and coaching - help individuals see different behaviors that can help them demonstrate accountability
- Multi-rater assessments - show individuals how their own accountability (or lack thereof) impacts others
- Team meetings – provide an opportunity for regularly reviewing and discussing the progress of everyone’s accountabilities and how they impact the team’s goals and objectives
To ensure intention leads to actual results, ultimately individuals need to understand the requirement to demonstrate accountability. For individuals who manage others, it’s necessary to set clear expectations, and then ensure there is agreement that a commitment is doable and the goal is obtainable. Lastly, leaders need to insist on the delivery of the committed goal. They can provide support by setting up regular checkpoints to review progress, give timely feedback, and determine additional resources or support that may be needed.
Individuals demonstrate accountability every day—by delivering on commitments and showing in their behavior that they can be relied on to achieve results. When expectations are clear and individuals have the proper skills, knowledge, and resources to perform, they are more likely to show a greater level of accountability. With the help of leaders who model desired behaviors and leadership development and other training that teaches accountability, employees see the difference between effort and results, and learn to deliver both.