An Accountability Strategy That Will Make You A Stronger Leader

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Bigstock Images

Two key components of successful teams are for individuals to "own" their responsibilities and deliver their work outcomes in a timely and effective way. And it's the job of the leader or manager to make sure these things happen. With heavy workloads, frequent distractions, and sometimes unclear organizational goals, however, leaders can neglect this important role. They naively hope that their team members will simply "do the right thing."

As the work of the team deteriorates, it's usually then that the leader starts talking about holding their team accountable. They get angry, give worst-case scenarios of what will happen if things don't change, and start being more of a micro-manager. Things temporarily improve, and the leader returns to their old ways, only to have to repeat the process with individuals or the entire team again in the future.

Being reactive about accountability is a poor practice for leaders and managers. With such a fast-paced work environment, failing to notice potential problems early and address them in an effective way wastes so much precious time, as well as significant amounts of mental and emotional energy for everyone.

If you find yourself only thinking about accountability when you see significant problems showing up in someone's performance, I strongly encourage you to read the book, Good Authority, by Johnathan Raymond. While he talks about so much more than accountability, I found great value in his "accountability dial" method. Raymond says the key to accountability is to be proactive and curious early instead of neglecting small signs of poor performance and then resorting to the more negative stages of accountability. Here's a quick synopsis of his five stages of the accountability dial:

The Mention
The mention is short and immediate feedback when you first notice a potentially unhealthy behavior or attitude. You would say something like, "I noticed [concrete behavior]. Everything okay with you?"

The Invitation
This is an informal chat where you build more awareness around an issue when you see it happen again. Your words would be: "I've mentioned [concrete behavior] a few times now. What's the pattern?"

The Conversation
This is what many people consider accountability... the "We need to talk" meeting. Raymond offers a better way to frame it, however, because the focus is on impact and outcomes instead of appearing to be a personal attack. "[Concrete behaviors] are impacting the team. Let's look at how we can change things."

The Boundary
Here you outline the consequences of not changing. "if [concrete behaviors] don't change, we might have to [consequences.]"

The Limit
Hoping that they are still willing to see the need to change, you give individuals one last chance to improve. "This is your final warning about [concrete behaviors.] Here's the next step..."

This approach aligns so well with my Always Growing philosophy. You're giving people a better chance to self-correct their behaviors in a positive environment as opposed to trying to "fix" these bad behaviors with a heavy, more negative approach. Isn't that one of the hallmarks of a strong leader? Orrin Woodward may have said it best when he wrote:

Average leaders raise the bar on themselves;
good leaders raise the bar for others;
great leaders inspire others to raise their own bar.