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Leadership Gems


Accountability = The Secret Weapon of High Performing Teams

Holding ourselves and others accountable is hard. It’s also hard not to do so. Consider this invitation to “choose your hard”, if you will. One choice will create a cycle of success and results; the other will create a cycle of failure and below-the-line mindsets, leading to unproductive behaviors that will hamper your team’s success.

Undoubtedly, overcoming an avoidance of accountability is the most challenging dysfunction for teams to overcome. It’s one thing to build trust, to engage in healthy conflict and to achieve commitment despite variances of opinion. It’s entirely another thing to call out unproductive behaviors and draw attention to low say/do ratios, hallmarks of powerful peer-to-peer accountability.

It’s easy to hesitate when providing critical feedback because of these common pitfalls:

  • · Focusing on people-pleasing/being liked more than on team results

  • · Believing you’re avoiding conflict, while defaulting to artificial harmony

  • · Hoping a team member will suddenly change his/her behaviors

  • · Forgetting that, contrary to popular subconscious belief, failing to hold someone accountable isn’t putting that person first; it’s actually a self-protective and selfish act

Just like healthy conflict isn’t about people, accountability isn’t actually about people either. It’s about behaviors, patterns and performance. It’s also about trust. Being held accountable and being willing to be held accountable are both about answering to the trust that’s been established. This reminds us that trust must come first in order for accountability to be an effective management and leadership skill.

Leaders who do a fantastic job of holding people accountable don’t think of accountability after a task has/hasn’t been done; they set people up from the beginning to engage in successful behaviors. Great management involves inspecting what you expect. Great leadership involves discussing clear expectations up front and determining together what “success” or “done” look like. It’s key to get this sequence in the right order.

Not surprisingly, peer to peer accountability is proven to be even more effective than boss to employee accountability. Teams who leverage this understand that when they fail to provide constructive feedback, they’re letting both their individual team members and the team as a a whole down. The best place to consistently hold each other accountable is during meetings, keeping conversations open and transparent to prevent undue misunderstandings. Lastly, the top executive leader must go first with self and other accountability, modeling the appropriate behavior for everyone else to follow.

Key takeaways:

  • · Accountability is hard, but so is avoidance of accountability. Great leaders choose their hard well – the one that leads to team results.

  • · Failing the accountability test is selfish and unproductive team behavior.

  • · Accountability is not about people; it’s about behaviors, patterns and performance.

  • · Great leaders help people hold themselves accountable by setting them up for success.

  • · The best form of accountability happens peer-to-peer, during meetings.


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