This article is part of The Ascender, the Highrise platform for articles and resources.

Leadership Accountability: How to Be an Accountable Leader?

Andrew Langat
April 14, 2023
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"If you're going to be a leader, you won't please everybody. You have to hold people accountable, even if you have that moment of being uncomfortable." - Kobe Bryant

Leadership accountability is one of the distinguishing behaviors of great leaders. An accountable leader draws respect from team members and makes it easy for them to lead and offer constructive feedback.

This is because they are willing to be held accountable for their actions and, by extension, hold others by the same standards.

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What is Accountability in Leadership?

Accountability in leadership means taking responsibility for your actions. Accountability is about delivering on a commitment. It's the responsibility for an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It's taking the initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.

Accountable leaders have a knock-on effect in their workplace. They set clear expectations and hold people responsible by clearly defining the company's goals, mission, and values.

According to Vince Molinaro, a leadership accountability expert, 72% of HR professionals and business leaders agree that leadership accountability is essential for business success. About 31% are satisfied with the leadership accountability they see in their companies.

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The Importance of Accountability in Leadership and Business

Accountability is necessary because people who feel responsible for their actions may be more likely to perform their tasks well and efficiently. A business leader that values responsibility may encourage more outstanding commitment and increased employee happiness. This is because feeling responsible for one's actions and work can create a better feelings of control and autonomy.

Here are some other points on the importance of accountability in the leadership team:

1. It strengthens culture.

According to an article in Forbes, a lack of accountability can have a snowball effect throughout the team. When you implant accountability in your business, you make your team feel accountable and responsible by establishing meaningful goals, building trust through support and encouragement, empowering everyone on the team, and celebrating successes together.

When you embed honesty and integrity in your workplace, it enables your employees to own their mistakes without ridicule, helping you to create an environment that allows growth and leadership development.

2. It builds trust.

Holding everyone in your team accountable for their actions breeds trust, a common characteristic of a good workplace.

A safe space will allow team members or employees to confide in others, building trust and strengthening the team. Conversely, leaders must be transparent, communicate openly, accept responsibility, and treat employees fairly with the guidance of policies and standards that apply to everyone.

3. It fosters better compliance.

Compliance affects almost every industry in today's ever-changing business environment. Laws, guidelines, standards, and regulations guide processes nowadays, and compliance depends on accountability in the business.

Being accountable means working with integrity. And by improving accountability, you reduce your risk of facing fines, lawsuits, oversight, or other consequences of non-compliance.

4. It improves performance.

According to Forbes, "Clear expectations for everyone on the team coupled with an understanding of personal accountability for their performance are the key ingredients to improving confidence, morale, and production within the team."

Having an accountable culture in your business can help improve performance. When everyone in your team knows their responsibilities, it eliminates confusion and saves time, allowing them to work on the precise goals set.

Connecting accountability with performance can help you pay attention to processes and results by correcting sub-par efforts and rewarding performing employees.

Hold employees accountable when they turn in poor work or fail to meet expectations. Help them improve leadership skills and educate them on expectations. Recognizing and rewarding employees who follow guidelines, act appropriately, and meet or exceed expectations is equally important.

When leaders are ultimately accountable for their actions, they can give honest feedback that reflects them. This feedback helps the employees learn from you and achieve results.

This personal accountability mentality boosts individual, team, and organizational performance.

5. It minimizes mistakes.

Accountability and strong leadership are good for business in other ways as well. When business leaders can own up to their mistakes, they can more easily find a way to fix the problem and move forward.

When leaders are ultimately accountable, they aren't afraid to admit their flaws or oversights to others; they can source solutions from the rest of the organization. This can lead to more diverse, creative, and innovative ideas.

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What Happens if a Leader Lacks the Skills of Accountability?

There are great benefits to having accountable leaders. So what are the consequences of lacking leadership perspective and accountability?

1. It lowers morale.

A leader's lack of accountability lowers workplace morale. An unaccountable leader will deny responsibility and blame it on others, creating a negative and toxic work environment.

This automatically lowers morale and enthusiasm, impacting an organization's performance.

2. It leads to a high turnover rate.

The entire company can benefit when they have accountable leaders. But a lack thereof can derail an organization and its performance. When a leader lacks accountability, it affects the organization's stability. When this happens, employees want opportunities that offer them stability and higher engagement, so the turnover rate increases drastically.

3. It leads to reduced employee engagement.

In an organization where an unaccountable leader is at the helm, there won't be any motivation to evaluate and provide positive, constructive feedback. This means employees don't know the direction they are headed in, and they don't feel invested.

Without accountability in leadership, the teams feel disconnected with no sense of purpose to motivate people to engage with each other.

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Elements of a Culture of Accountability in Leadership

Culture plays a large part in defining leadership and setting expectations for accountability. Many leaders try to foster a strong company culture that drives accountability. This helps set expectations for leadership development.

Effective leaders create a culture of accountability where individual employees feel they can abide by fair policies and procedures. As a result, they own up to their mistakes and focus on better decision-making that will guide their operations.

Here are some elements of a culture of accountability:

1. A Defined Leadership Model

Leaders need a defined leadership model to be held accountable, but most companies fail to set clear expectations. Instead, they expect people to pick up on unclear leadership expectations. This often leaves leaders filling in the gaps from their personal experiences, resulting in several competing definitions of good leadership at your company. 

Leadership development programs should define leadership within the company and set expectations for behaviors. 

2. Team accountability

Accountability defines, sets, and manages expectations for team members regarding performance, workflows, and processes. When team members feel accountable to themselves and others, they are more likely to meet deadlines and achieve better overall success.

Team accountability exercises such as setting clear goals will lead to high performance.

3. Solid Company Values

Your organization's values should guide decision-making across the workplace. Ensure employees understand your values and how they translate to behaviors in their roles. While leaders must understand how to live the company's values, these values need to be understood by everyone to create and sustain a culture of accountability. 

When all employees recognize values in action – or are absent when they should be in action – leaders will feel more pressure to act in alignment with those values.

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Five Tips for Holding Yourself Accountable

Being accountable does not happen immediately. Leaders demonstrate leadership accountability when they learn self-discipline to manage behavior and emotions. An effective leader takes accountability seriously when performing their duties.

Here are some tips for holding yourself accountable:

1. Learn about accountability.

To demonstrate accountability, take time to understand the reasons for being accountable.

Have short-term goals and try to achieve them to motivate you to keep going. Remember that professional growth is a slow process that requires patience and lots of learning.

2. Set your own goals.

Goal setting will give you an objective to work towards, so take some time and set realistic goals.

You can divide your plan into smaller pieces and work your way up. If you have a challenge, you can employ the SMART goal-setting method.

3. Have a Schedule.

A schedule makes time management easier. Moreover, a schedule will make checking off things on your to-do list more manageable. Also, it will help with time management; once you assign time to a particular task, you will likely reduce procrastination.

4. Reward Yourself.

Try to find a way to reward yourself, whether the achievement is big or small. This will continue to motivate you as you hone your accountable leadership skills.

5. Have an accountability counterpart.

While on a self-improvement journey, you may encounter challenges, so find a family member or friend with similar goals and support each other. Your accountability companion is someone with whom you can discuss big goals and exchange positive affirmations.

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The Five C's Framework for Building Team Accountability

Great leaders find a way of keeping organizations accountable and they have a framework to maintain it. But as a leader, you may be looking for a way to build accountability in your team.

Here is a framework you can apply:

1. Common Purpose: set the stage so all team members share one goal or objective. This will give them a purpose and blueprint to work with.

2. Clear Expectations: clarify what you need the team to do. You must tell them repeatedly so all team members know what is expected of them. Set a success metric and clarify the degree to which people are supposed to do something.

3. Communication: this is crucial; always communicate with your team. Over and over, sharing with them, asking questions, and reminding them why they're doing this is essential. Your job as a leader is to keep them paddling in the same direction, especially when rolling out annual and quarterly plans. Communication is what provides life to any team because it's what fosters long-term sustainability.

4. Coaching and Collaborating: collaborating with your team, sharing ideas, and adjusting to project challenges in real-time. Monitor your team's progress, coach, listen, and talk with them to increase performance.

5. Consequence and Results: leaders are the first to let people know when something's not right. But when things go well, it's as if success is smoothed over. The consequence of that, though, is that you create a corrective culture. People are only noticed and given attention at weekly team meetings when things go differently than expected. As a leader, you must set a benchmark to make both results and consequences visible.

Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

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Let Highrise Teach You About Accountability

Accountability is vital for building trust in your team.

At Highrise, we pride ourselves on working with growth-minded professionals in fast-paced industries; we help you understand leadership accountability and develop the skills to be accountable.

Our expert coaches provide personalized guidance and support to help you set goals, manage priorities, and build strong relationships with your team.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.