Bravery and Accountability in Leadership

Lack of accountability in organizations is one of the top 5 toxic and cascading behaviors. Leadership is all about accountability to results, people, and the company as a whole. When leaders struggle taking ownership over issues under their umbrella, it not only makes them look weak, but it also exposes deficit in character. Being accountable takes heart and bravery especially when things aren’t going in your favor, yet it shows strength in leadership abilities.

It is human nature, when backed up against the wall, to scurry around an issue and find reasons that softens the fact that the problem, staring you right in the face, happened on your watch. I have studied this behavior, and where possible, I attempt to call it out with the individual scurrying to deflect blame onto others, their circumstances, or management. Deflecting or minimizing the cause of the crisis is not the best laid plan as a leader. I see it often where management actually blames those they manage for the delay or the ball drop, and set them squarely in front of the proverbial bus quickly barreling down the road, called upper management.  All the while, somehow forgetting, all of the people who are involved in the problem and perhaps the cause of the crisis, report to you. You are their Manager. Newsflash, that makes you the owner of the issue!  Ownership and accountability takes bravery and maturity and it isn’t natural for everyone, however it is a necessity when you are leading a charge for your organization. Do not place blame on the people you manage as the primary source of an issue. It is an incredibly bad look and one that will not garner you any support from those that report to you or that of your manager. At the end of the day, you likely could have and should have been managing differently or tighter. When confronted with issues that resides under your area of responsibility be ready to discuss symptoms of the issue and diagnosis to fix, but stand up and take accountability for what you own.

I have witnessed some fantastic examples of lack of bravery in accountability. These are some of the milder ones, but may strike some familiarity:

  1. “I have been asking the team to do this forever”
  2. “This is just a small impact to the business, why are we over inflating this?”
  3. “This was a bad hire from previous management”

When you identify a leader who is not being accountable to the outcome, what do you do? My recommendation is stop it in its tracks immediately. The antidote to deflection strategies and lack of accountability may sound a little like this (aligning with numbered items above):

  1. “It sounds like you have been asking the team to handle this for a long while. What is it about your approach as a leader that is preventing you from getting the results from the team? Are you holding them accountable to deadlines and outcomes? What is your plan to resolve this issue?”
  2. “From your vantage point this may be small, but there are other things you may not be considering. Being passive that this issue is small may prevent you from diving in and uncovering if you have a people or process issue that is leading to bigger issues down the road. What is your plan to make sure that this is not missed again?”
  3. “What steps have you taken to coach this individual since they now report to you? What is your plan to ensure your team members, regardless of who hired them have full buy in and are on board with your expectations?”

If you let your leaders buy into their own propaganda surrounding where they are or are not accountable, it will be difficult for them to admit there are issues to resolve and that they are responsible for resolving them. Not addressing the behavior will allow the issues to continue, cost you money, time, and frustration. Push accountability and call for action. Once you begin pushing back on those behaviors and help your leaders recognize their own responsibility by not allowing them to deflect blame, the less noise you will hear, the faster the issues will be resolved, the more accountable the individual becomes. Accountability leads to execution for the business and it is the behavior you want to cultivate and drive as a part of the DNA of your organization.

If you are a leader in your organization and you are reading this and it is resonating with you because you have been a deflector of blame or have demonstrated a lack of accountability for items that land squarely in your lane or on your watch, then I offer this recommendation: Stop spending your energy twisting up the story and blurring lines of accountability. Words like, “I’m sorry, this is on me”, “I dropped the ball here”, become strong statements and they demonstrate bravery, leadership and respect for your leader and your team members. Spend all of your energy resolving the issue and learning from the situation.

If you are a leader and are experiencing a lack of accountability from your management team, address it with bold conversations. Set the tone for your expectations and be clear about who owns the resolution of the issue. 

Brave responses may sound like this:

  1. “I’m sorry, this has been on my mind for a while and I failed to put this process into practice. Here is what I am committing to doing by next week to resolve this issue go forward.”
  2. “It looks like the impact is small, but there is an issue I need to dig deeper into. This is on me, I will make sure I figure out what is happening and will get back to you tomorrow.”
  3. “This was my miss, I need to spend more time vetting the legacy management team and give a comprehensive review of where we have gaps. For now, I will address with the manager and reset expectations so we can move past this.”

Think about rewarding those who take accountability in your organization, “I appreciate that you immediately took ownership of that issue and came with a solution, keep me posted on progress.” 

Be Brave. Be Accountable.


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