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How accountability leads to successful management

We hear a lot about accountability when it comes to leadership. But what exactly does it refer to, and how does this trait lead to successful management? 

We’ll help you understand the behaviors associated with highly accountable people and explain how they lead to increased trust, stronger relationships, and better business outcomes.  

What is accountability? 

Accountability is accepting responsibility for your actions and being willing to own the outcomes of your choices, decisions, and actions. It may be helpful to share examples of what high and low accountability levels look like in action from a leadership perspective. 

Let’s say the CEO of your organization made a bad strategic decision. As a result, the entire company is working overtime to put out multiple fires. Instead of brushing everything under the rug or blaming the other executives who were part of the decision-making process, your CEO publicly takes ownership of her mistake, explains how she plans to avoid a similar outcome in the future, and thanks all the employees for their hard work and understanding. This is an example of a highly accountable leader.

Now imagine there’s a major project at your company that was set to launch almost two weeks ago. But one of the teams is behind schedule and is slowing everything down. When asked for updates on the timeline, the manager of the project gets extremely defensive and – worse –  blames the delays on his employees, who have been working late multiple times a week to try and catch up. This creates tension across the organization, and the project continues to be delayed for several more weeks. In this case, the manager is demonstrating low levels of accountability. 

Understanding the “Accountability Ladder”

To help you understand the differences between low and high accountability, let’s take a look at the “Accountability Ladder” below. As you can see, this ladder represents a spectrum that outlines behaviors ranging from the least accountable (level 1) to the most accountable (level 8). 

Level 1 – Remain unaware

This represents someone who is completely unaware that there’s a goal to pursue or a problem to solve. 

Level 2 – Blame others

This is someone who is aware of the circumstances but chooses not to take responsibility for anything. Instead, they pin it on someone else.

Level 3 – Rationalize

At this level, people try to justify why they won’t accept responsibility for an outcome or decision. 

Level 4 – Wait and hope

This level represents someone who is passive and chooses not to take action – with the hopes that the problem will go away or resolve itself.

Level 5 – Accept the situation

This is someone who acknowledges that there’s a problem and that changes need to be made. 

Level 6 – Acknowledge ownership

This represents a person who is not only accepting of whatever needs to change but is also willing to accept their role in it.

Level 7 – Look for solutions

At this level, people are actively looking for solutions to overcome the challenges they’re facing.

Level 8 – Take action

Finally, this level represents someone who takes all the necessary actions to get the job done. 

In general, levels 1 to 4 represent behaviors associated with low accountability, while levels 5 to 8 represent behaviors associated with high accountability. 

3 ways accountability leads to successful management

Accountability at the leadership level is important to the success of individuals, teams, and organizations. That’s likely why two-thirds of respondents from a survey of over 2,000 HR leaders said that leadership accountability is a critical issue within their organization

Here’s how being accountable leads to better outcomes.  

1. Builds trust

High levels of accountability, especially among leaders, builds trust within organizations. Knowing that their leaders will take responsibility for their decisions instills a high level of confidence in team members. Also, when leaders model this type of behavior for the rest of the company, it leads to a broader culture of accountability. 

Running a high-trust organization comes with many benefits. Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout.

2. Strengthens relationships 

Another positive side effect of high accountability is that it allows leaders to build stronger relationships with their employees. When employees feel like they can have an open, two-way dialogue with their company leaders and managers, they’re more likely to be engaged in various aspects of the organization – whether that’s in the form of sharing feedback or asking questions.

This, in turn, can lead to better business outcomes. In fact, studies have found that organizations with highly engaged employees have an average three-year revenue growth that is 2.3 times greater than companies with less engaged teams. 

3. Minimize costly mistakes 

Accountability is good for business in other ways as well. When leaders can own up to the mistakes they make, they can more easily find a way to fix the problem and move forward. On the other hand, a leader who is in denial about a mistake likely won’t be able to work through it as quickly.

Also, since accountable leaders 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 innovative, creative, and diverse ideas.

How to improve your levels of accountability

If you feel like you’re lacking in accountability as a leader, don’t worry! This is a muscle you can easily strengthen with the help of mentoring or leadership coaching. Mentors and coaches can support many aspects of accountability – from improving leaders’ abilities to follow through on actions to helping them identify areas where they can exercise more ownership.  

The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found that people have a 65% chance of completing a goal if they commit to someone. And if there’s a specific accountability appointment with an individual, such as a regularly scheduled session with a mentor or coach, those chances of success go up to 95%.

Accountability is a critical trait that everyone at the management level needs to practice. By familiarizing yourself with the behaviors in the Accountability Ladder, and by seeking out the support of a coach or mentor, you can improve your own accountability levels and see better outcomes for your people and organization. To learn how mentoring and coaching can help you become a more accountable leader, request a demo.