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Why leaders must build accountability on their teams

By Randy Hall

I was having a conversation with a coaching client recently and we started talking about the difference between progress and attendance. The difference between showing up and being present and doing what’s required of you vs. showing up and taking ownership for the impact you have that day.

We all have days where we are just in attendance.  We feel like we give it everything we have and it’s not even enough to get our tasks completed, much less change the future of anything.

But building a team where most of the time the people on that team are thinking about what they can do better, what they get to own and accomplish, what they can do to help, what opportunity they can capture, what difference they get to make in the future...that is what great leaders do.

That’s what building a fully accountable team feels like.

It’s about leading in a way that causes a group of people to focus more on the future than the past, more on solutions than problems, more on ownership than blame, and more on proactive choices than reactive impulses.

The four components of a highly successful culture are accountability, engagement, improvement, and execution. They all depend on each other and none can exist alone.  Accountability is critical for a successful team and if leaders want to be successful themselves, they must learn to cultivate, coach, and support accountability on their team.

Accountability is a way of thinking that allows teams of people to do amazing things because they are not mired in unamazing conversations. They do not spend time blaming or criticizing, making excuses, or wishing things were different.  They spend time thinking, improving, trying, and learning. They spend time immersed in what could be and work toward it rather than dwelling on what wasn’t.

When you meet a leader with a fully accountable team, they are happier people.  They are spending their time in ways that fulfill them, energize them, and allow them to thrive.  They are not bogged down by problems and issues and challenges that can drain creativity, energy, and interest.

It’s not a complete nirvana. Leading teams of people is never that easy. But it means that they know their effort and actions will matter, because other people will also take action to make them matter.

Your work as a leader is done with and through others.  Your impact, your results, and your legacy is all determined by the choices others make.  Your opportunity is to help them achieve success through those choices in ways they might not have without you.  If you build a fully accountable team you get to do that every day.  You get to lead more than you get to fix, troubleshoot, correct, or criticize.

As a leader, you get to make a difference in how people feel, how they perform, how they treat others around them, how happy their evenings are, and essentially how their life goes.  You are entrusted with the opportunity to actually make that kind of impact on others.  It might sound like an overstatement but if you have ever heard anyone complain about how miserable their boss makes them, then you know the importance people put on their manager when it comes to how their day goes.

Most of us take that for granted.  We show up and try to get everyone focused on the right things, doing the work the right way, and getting the job done.  Sometimes, in our effort to get the work done, we leave the people a little worse than we found them at the beginning of the day. That means the work gets done a little less well tomorrow.  Now we have put ourselves in a cycle that means we might feel like we have to work harder, spend more time on mistakes, nag, threaten, implore, oversee, or instruct even more vigorously to get people to do the things the business needs.  We have lost the ability to lead and are now just using authority to manage.

Without accountability as part of how our team works, everyone on the team can feel like a victim.  The team feels like they are the victim of a bad boss, after all they didn't pick you, and the manager feels like they are the victim of an underperforming team, even if they did pick some of them.

This might be a common situation, but it doesn’t have to be.  Leaders can define, cultivate, and support accountability on any team of people, and they can do it by taking a few key steps and building a few key habits. It’s not easy, but it is also not that complex.

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