Embracing Accountability: The True Mark of Leadership

The number of people who are incredibly eager to be in charge and who genuinely want to be leaders but are unwilling to take responsibility is astounding.

But it doesn’t work like that; if you make the decisions, then you’re accountable for the results.

As the leader, you choose the directions, and you can’t blame others when your choices don’t lead to success.

Peter Drucker says, ‘Leaders make sure we do the right things; Managers make sure we do things right.’

But this doesn’t mean that it’s leaders who are accountable for setting direction; it’s managers who are accountable for ensuring that we achieve it.

Remember, the manager works for the leader, and as we can’t delegate accountability, the leader remains accountable for ensuring the results are delivered.

We can make the manager responsible, but we still retain accountability.

I worked for one boss who decided that we would undertake a massive transformation programme. It was one of the largest change programmes that I had ever worked on, and it was very difficult because we had to make huge changes to our daily operational processes while at the same time continuing to deliver our services to our customers.

At the height of the transformation, our service levels dipped, which was not only pretty normal; it was also expected, but it didn’t stop the customer from complaining as we were interrupting their ability to do business.

After one bad day, my boss called me into his office. I was Head of Service Delivery, so this was my area of responsibility, and I did feel accountable, but I was surprised by my boss’s comments.

He told me that I needed to get the problems resolved as quickly as possible because the current level of performance was not good enough, which I not only agreed with but also had a plan on how to address them.

He then said to me that I was accountable for the systems, not him. It was my job to fix them, not his, and if I didn’t resolve them, it would be detrimental to my career.

Why was I surprised? Well,  because I worked for him, I was implementing his strategy, not mine. Sure,  I was responsible and even felt accountable, but ultimately, he was in charge.  As far as the business was concerned, and also his direct boss, he was accountable.

I don’t dispute that it was my job to fix the problems, and I certainly felt accountable, but to my boss’s boss, it was my boss who was really accountable.

He was happy to take all of the credit for success but wanted to absolve himself of any accountability for any of the problems.  That’s not leadership!

You can take this approach, but it will not help build trust and respect within the team, with your customers, or with your bosses.

If you want to be in charge, you have to be accountable. As Harry S Truman said, ‘The buck stops here‘.

Be accountable; when leaders take this approach, it builds trust and confidence.

We need to be able to trust that our leaders will see things through to completion and that when we hit problems, they will work with us, shoulder to shoulder, to address them and overcome them.

We need to remember that allocating blame doesn’t fix problems!

So if you want to be a leader, you need to accept that accountability.

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