Leading By Accountability Is Contagious

Accountable behavior from the C-suite down leads to clarity and unmatched productivity in the workplace.

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By Beth Miller


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Accountability is essential for any successful organization. When team members take ownership of their projects and accept responsibility for outcomes, the entire company benefits. In order to foster a culture of accountability, leaders must step up to the plate and model specific behaviors. Accountable leaders don't necessarily have to come from the C-suite. Anybody, at any level can lead through accountability.

Related: Build Accountability to Create an Unstoppable Business

The four pieces of the accountability puzzle

In the book Winning With Accountability, author Henry J. Evans of Dynamic Results examines the ways in which individuals can demonstrate accountable interactions. The four pieces to accountability are:

1. Clear expectations: The request and the response must be detailed and clear.

2. Specific date and time: The individual commits to delivering something by a specific day and specific time.

3. Ownership: The individual takes responsibility for seeing the task through to completion and accepts responsibility for the outcome.

4: Sharing: Letting you or others know who are responsible for a task.

Each of these four pieces reinforces the others and when a single piece is missing, an interaction is not an accountable one.

Specificity of date and time: the common missing piece

Typically, specificity of delivery is the most often-overlooked piece of the accountability puzzle. An individual may say, "I will get that to you by the end of the week." Unfortunately, this is not specific enough to qualify as an accountable response. A Type A manager may assume that end of the week means Friday morning at 8 a.m. And, someone on the East Coast may assume end of the week is 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, but someone on the West Coast would be three hours behind.

When coaching someone toward an accountable interaction, it is important to draw out an exact date and exact time, including time zone. This keeps everyone with the same expectation, and allows team members and managers to check in on progress at appropriate intervals.

Related: Lessen the Burden Of Accountability With These 3 Simple Rules

Vague language breeds failure.

Winning With Accountability also includes a "Glossary of Failure." This includes vague words like "best" and "worst" that do not quantify a task or interaction. Best and worst mean different things to different people and lack specificity. To lead through accountability, stop the conversation when you hear terms like this, and ask for clarification. The goal is to get the individual to paint a clear picture of their goal or the outcome.

"We" is another word included in the "Glossary of Failure." Accountability is about the individual, not the group. Someone owns a task, and they are responsible for its completion. To say, "our team will handle it," isn't clear enough. You must say, "I will handle this specific portion of the project" -- and then see it through.

Getting an accountable response

When it comes to accountable interactions, there are only four responses that are accountable, according to the research of Fernando Flores. They are:

1. Yes

2. No

3. Re-negotiation: This is a "Yes, if," or a "No unless" response. The answer may be "Yes, I will complete this report by Friday at noon, Eastern Time, if you complete the data entry by Wednesday at 11 a.m., Eastern Time." Or the answer, "No unless you complete the data entry by Wednesday at 11 a.m. Eastern Time."

4. A promise to promise: This is a commitment to do something by a specific time, but not a commitment to the request. For example, "I will let you know by Friday at 10 a.m. Eastern Time whether or not I am able to join your lunch meeting."

All of these responses give the participants clarity and leaves no room for misinterpretation.

Accountability is contagious.

Accountability is a skill that can be coached in many employees, and it is a value that is truly contagious. Accountable people lead by example, and when they take steps to lead their colleagues towards more accountable interactions, ownership and responsibility will catch on like wildfire. And the best part? Anyone, at any level of the company can step up to be a leader of accountability.

Related: 3 Mistakes Owners and Managers Make While Trying to Create a Culture of Accountability

Beth Miller

Leadership Development Advisor, Speaker, Executive Coach

Beth Armknecht Miller is a certified managerial coach and founder of Executive Velocity Inc., a boutique firm offering talent management and leadership development solutions. She chairs a monthly Atlanta meeting for Vistage, a company that hosts advisory meetings for small business CEOs. Her latest book is Are You Talent Obsessed?

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