The Weakest Link in Accountability

If accountability is a problem in your culture then unfortunately what I am going to say is going to hurt if you are a senior leader in your company.


Years ago I went through an agressive recruiting cycle with a prospective employee and during the interviews we talked about his current manager.  He clearly had some issues with his manager and while he never said anything outright negative I could read between the lines.  The funny thing is that I offered him a job and he turned me down.  When I asked him why I said it was impression that he didn’t like his current manager.  I have never forgotten his response.  “I don’t really like him but he holds me accountable and I am more successful as a result.  That is why I respect him.”  Wow, big lesson for me!

Accountability at the lower ranks of a company is like a mirror on senior management’s walk and talk.  If there is a lack of accountability at the lower ranks of a culture then for sure somewhere between the lowest ranks and the most senior there is a gap between what is being said and what is being done.

Let me put this in the reverse.   If accountability is functioning at the front line ranks of a company then managers right up the management chain are walking and talking accountability.  Living in integrity for these managers means they are not saying one thing and doing another.

One of the big challenges for weak managers is holding people accountable.  In some instances they want to be liked by their team.  As a result they let people off the hook too easily.  But, people expect their manager to hold them accountable.  They don’t want the person to be nasty but they do expect them to be firm.  In fact they won’t respect the manager unless they are firm.

Some people think that accountability and empathy are linear opposites.  A manager might understand how busy their employee is and therefore empathy would say let them off the hook on their promises.  But that is exactly the breakdown.  If a company wants to develop a highly accountable culture then managers in the hierarchy MUST hold to accountability – with empathy of course.  Empathetic Accountability would say that we understand the challenge and we want to help them but the promise must be kept.  A new solution must be found.  Creativity must be engaged.  Accountability cannot be sacrificed.

If a manager lets an employee off the hook then obviously accountability is not that important.  Accountability is easy when things are easy.  Accountability is tough when things are tough.  Accountability only gets challenged when it is needed most.  People who step up and make things happen when the going gets rough really show everyone around them what accountability looks like.  When someone steps up to solving a problem they didn’t cause and they OWN it like the problem was of their own making are even more likely to show people what accountability is.

Accountability is one thing that senior executives must model.  They cannot talk.  They must walk.  Ultimately accountability for accountability rests at the top.

Categories: Management ImpactTags: , ,

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