People dread talking about accountability. Leaders may claim to implement accountability in their organizations, but often fall short in execution and even fail to realize it. When called out, employees may try to hide mistakes or point fingers elsewhere to avoid taking the blame.  

Pointing fingers

Despite their unpopularity, accountability processes are necessary. Without them, leaders would not be able to assess and affirm the work of those they lead and identify changes that can be made to improve performance. They include everything from annual performance reviews to quick touch base meetings 

A Culture of Accountability 

Companies often claim to have a “culture of accountability,” but is that really the case? Recent numbers reported by Harvard Business Review speak for themselves about today’s accountability systems  

  • The Workplace Accountability Study shows that 82% of managers acknowledge they have “limited to no” ability to hold others accountable successfully. 
  • 91% of employees would say that “effectively holding others accountable” is one of their company’s top leadership-development needs.  
  • Gallup found that only 14% of employees feel their performance is managed in a way that motives them, 26% get feedback less than once per year, 21% feel their performance metrics are within their control, and 40% feel as if their manager holds them accountable for goals they set.  
  • Add to that the fact that 70% of employees feel their managers aren’t objective in how they evaluate their performance, and it comes as no surprise that 69% of employees don’t feel they’re living up to their potential at work.

So, where is the breakdown in this so-called culture of accountability? It falls on the leaders, who aren’t often looking in the mirror  

Who Should Be Held Accountable? 

If you’ve attended a corporate accountability workshop before, chances are it focused on teaching you how to hold others accountable. There isn’t a month that goes by that I don’t hear from multiple attendees in JMA’s virtual Accountability Mirror™ workshop that they’ve already attended an accountability workshop or seminar in their professional life. They wonder what, if anything, they will learn in my workshop. These leaders are open to learning more, but think they already have the topic mastered. They are the epitome of accountability. 

But in just the first half of the day, they quickly learn that this isn’t like their previous accountability exercises and that their track record isn’t so pristine. Instead, they learn that the focus should be on themselves to not only model accountability but understand that more often than not, the leader is contributing to others’ lack of accountability.  

Breakdowns often start with the person who initiated the request, which is typically the leader. But we are often blind to gaps in our own performance, so it’s essential to be able to shift the focus from external (others) to internal (yourself). You can’t have accountability in your organization if you don’t practice it yourself.  

Related: Improve your Team’s Efficiency with Accountability  


Who’s to Blame?  

As an executive coach, I talk about accountability often, not only with the leaders in my workshops and coaching sessions, but also with my own staff. In fact, my Director of Operations and Strategy Kelly Brummet and I argue about it frequently. That’s because in almost every situation where something didn’t go as planned, I will claim responsibility for not setting up someone effectively. I’ve been practicing radical accountability for over 20 years, so it’s just ingrained in my thinking pattern. I look at myself first, whereas other leaders have been trained to look at others.  

Kelly will also take responsibility, thus the heated discussions, but that’s the kind of company I want to run. I want to have employees fighting over who is accountable and saying they could have done better. Nothing makes me more proud of my team in those moments. In that environment, everyone is growing and learning. Everyone constantly self-reflects and remains open. No one is afraid to make a mistake. That’s the real culture of accountability that I want myself, my employees, and my company to embody.  

Blind Leading the Blind 

Leaders tend to be blind when it comes to their own accountability. In some cases, it’s subconscious. They are focused on the metrics, the data, on who did what, but they don’t stop to think about the backstory and how they got in their present situation. They drive the agenda, so the initiatives start with them. Did they set up everyone on their team so that they could be successful? Or were there breakdowns that occurred that could actually fall on the leader’s shoulders?  

In our accountability workshop, a leader learns not only how to identify blind spots, but also how to become self-aware. Accountability goes so much deeper than just who is responsible for what, because by drawing attention to gaps in your own performance, you are also realizing what gets in the way of optimizing that performance.  

I offer you frameworks in the workshop that will enable you to level up your performance immediately. When you log off Zoom at the end of the day, you will be able to identify the self-sabotaging behaviors and patterns that contribute to performance gaps. By addressing those, you’ll be able to get better results both in your professional and personal life quickly and consistently.  

Accountability mirror

Work on Self  

I cannot think of one single person who has taken our accountability workshop that didn’t find gaps in their performance that they could immediately target and work to create a better level of results for themselves and in others.   

So why don’t more companies focus on working on self rather than pointing fingers at others? Most organizations are moving at such a rapid pace they won’t slow down in order to speed up. In order to systemically understand breakdowns in communication and performance, you must slow down and evaluate current talent, processes and procedures. That will allow you to repair any problems at the foundation. But most companies are moving forward so quickly they don’t take the time to reflect, and they certainly don’t want to look back. Those leaders don’t realize that they could have fewer breakdowns and miscommunications and actually move forward faster if they slowed down just a bit to train themselves and everyone to be accountable.   

Look in the Mirror  

The essential principles for being accountable are awareness, self-ownership and courage:  

  • Awareness: You can’t be accountable for something you can’t (or refuse to) see or don’t know. For example, to know if you are delivering on your promises to your employees, you need to ask them. Don’t just assume you know. Listen and ask follow up questions.  
  • Self-ownership: There’s no time for finger pointing in leadership. You must take responsibility for the situations that you help create. Start with yourself first. How could you have improved the situation by setting up your employees for success?  
  • Courage: It takes guts to be accountable. We all have fear, but you must be able to act despite those fears and do the right thing. You must put the needs of the organization, the department ahead of your own self-preservation

Holding others accountable only begins when you can hold yourself accountable first. It will require humility, grace and mindfulness. If you are ready to truly become accountable, we have a seat at our virtual table for you in our next workshop.  

Learn more about our Accountability Workshop