Improved Accountability for Leaders: A 3-Step Process

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Do you put off questioning that employee who is habitually late?  Do you make empty threats to your staff when they miss deadlines but fail to follow through on consequences?  Do you look the other way when direct reports are bickering with each other, thinking they’ll work it out sooner or later?  For a number of leaders, confronting employees is such a dreaded process that they avoid it all costs, even if those employees cost them a reduction in productivity, low morale or losing points on accreditation standards.  Fear of confrontation can signal a failure to lead.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen and heard about countless CEOs, supervisors, and managers, who fail to hold their direct reports accountable for things such as repeatedly missed deadlines, a pattern of inappropriate behaviors, and continued failure to follow through with assigned tasks.  Interestingly enough, I learned about the importance of being accountable along with how to hold others accountable, from my sorority days in college.  Once we volunteered for or were assigned to tasks in sorority meeting, there was a clear expectation that a report would be forthcoming at the next meeting.  It was also drilled into us that if we could not be present at said meeting, our report was still expected.  Those who failed to abide by these well-known expectations were calmly questioned when they reappeared and it went something like this, “Soror (sister) Leslie, your report on fundraising was due at our last meeting.  Why didn’t we have it?  Can you tell us why you didn’t send it with someone else?”  Obviously, after witnessing one or two members go through this not – so-  pleasant experience, many of us made mental notes to always be prepared and to  make sure we submitted our reports in advance when we knew we couldn’t be in attendance.  The intent of this questioning was not to embarrass anyone but to show that each person’s assignment was important and that the sorority’s business and movement forward was contingent on every member doing her part.  Failure to follow through as agreed could lead to adverse consequences for the goals we were trying to accomplish.  The same can be said for any business.

Not holding people accountable for their actions is a missed opportunity for leaders to lead with integrity and show their commitment to ensuring success for their employees as well as their goals.  So why is it that leaders have such a hard time with this issue of accountability?  It could be that they anticipate a negative confrontation.  Also, many times, they’re unsure of how to proceed and believe they have to develop the solutions themselves.  There a number of reasons, I’m sure. But for now, we’ll deal with the fears that were just identified.  Here is a three- step framework for approaching staff privately about accountability:

  • In a matter-of- fact tone, clearly point out the problematic behavior:  “Dave, the last 3 times you agreed to head a committee, no meetings were scheduled and we ended up using time during the board meeting to engage in committee work.”
  • Calmly note the impact of that behavior:  “This prevented committee members who volunteered to participate on your committee from making valuable contributions to this task.  In addition, other committees, who met as scheduled, became annoyed in having to take up valuable time during the board meeting to cover items that should have been addressed earlier. Regrettably, this behavior is causing me to wonder whether I can trust and depend on you with important leadership tasks”.
  • Ask for his input in correcting the behavior:So moving forward, what steps can I expect you to take that will allow you to have a different, more positive and effective experience in being the chairman of a committee?  I really want you to be successful with this, so what tools or resources do you need to help you?”

Holding staff and direct reports accountable for their behaviors does not have to be a negative encounter ending in hurt feelings.  This can be an opportunity for remind employees of their value and role in the company while at the same time ensuring they have the resources needed to complete the tasks.  Having a clear, open conversation allows you as the leader an opportunity to find out whether there are some unmet needs of which you were unaware. This can be a positive experience as your direct report leaves with a clearer understanding of expectations as well as unanticipated resources to support him.  When everyone knows that their work is important and has a valuable place within a team in particular and the organization in general, they end up working more effectively and productivity is enhanced.

Connecting the dots:

  • What is preventing you from having that private discussion with your direct report?
  • What impact is his or her behavior having on your organization?
  • What message are you sending your other direct reports by not holding this person accountable?
  • What steps are you willing to take now to be more effective in your leadership?


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