Leadership and Accountability
Note: This past week, several of my leadership coaching clients concluded coaching engagements. If you are interested in leadership coaching for yourself or a teammate, please feel free to contact me.
This week’s guest leadership post comes from my friend Sri Seshadri. I first met Sri six years ago in the Georgetown University Leadership Coaching Certificate Program, part of Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership. Sri is an international leadership coach with clients on several continents. I hope you enjoy his contribution.
As a CEO + senior leadership team coach, one of the most common challenges that I see on teams is a lack of accountability. This is very much in line with the findings by Patrick Lencioni from his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” Of the five dysfunctions, he says that most teams score the lowest on “Accountability.”
Let’s think about how the lack of accountability manifests within teams and organizations. One of the most common indicators is a lack of confidence in self and the team. You would also observe lots of blaming and finger-pointing. You would find that you or others on your team are doing other people’s jobs. You find that significant time and effort is wasted on firefighting and crisis management. Generally, the environment is characterized by delays, unpleasant surprises, poor results and high levels of stress.
In contrast, when a culture of accountability exists, leaders notice that their bandwidth is freed up. The organization is more agile and able to better adapt to changes. You find more predictability in business results. Overall, we see improved team and business performance and a happier team.
The contrast could not be more striking. There is much to be gained by creating a culture of accountability and, on the flip side, leaders stand to pay a high cost when accountability is missing.
As we think of creating a culture of accountability, let’s begin by agreeing on a common definition.
Accountability is one of those words which is used frequently, but which has multiple interpretations. This becomes very obvious to me when I ask teams to define accountability. Some people say “it’s about being responsible,” others say “it’s about taking full ownership” and others opine “it means you do what you said you would”.
While, each of these statements can be true to some extent, I would prefer to define accountability as follows:
1. Being accountable begins with taking ownership. You own the project, process, initiative or whatever you are accountable for.
2. Being accountable means being answerable. You are expected to give an account.
3. Being accountable means being explainable. You are capable of explaining the details of what is going on, which in turn requires you to be knowledgeable.
4. Finally, and most importantly, being accountable means that you are the early warning system. You anticipate risks in the form of obstacles, problems and delays and you communicate them to the appropriate stakeholders in a timely fashion so necessary action can be taken.
It would also be helpful to distinguish between “accountable” and “responsible”. While being responsible means being the person or the team who does the work, being accountable may or not include being responsible. Sometimes, the person who is accountable is also responsible for taking the action. In other cases, one can be accountable, but there could be other teammates who are responsible for the actions. They are not one and the same.
If you are keen on creating a culture of accountability, I would recommend you focus on the following five subjects.
1. Intention Clarity
2. Role Clarity
3. Process Clarity
4. Feedback-rich environment
5. Communication Clarity
Intention clarity helps the team or the organization understand where you are headed, what you are trying to accomplish and why this matters.
Role clarity requires you to define the responsibilities and results for each role and it can help you assess if you have the right people in the right seats doing the right things.
Process clarity is about ensuring that all team members have a good understanding of the most efficient and effective ways to get things done. This also requires you to put plans before actions. As many leaders say, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.
Creating a Feedback-rich environment will allow all members of the team to be on a continuous improvement journey and elevate their games over time. This requires each member of your team to become good at first receiving and then delivering effective feedback.
Communication clarity is all about making clear requests and clear agreements. When these are missing, it is highly likely that your team will lack accountability.
If you found this interesting, I would recommend that you watch the videos on this topic on my YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/c/AgileGrowthwithSri
If you believe this content would resonate with a friend or colleague, please feel free to forward it along!