“Why do you say that?”
“Well, this is the eighth time I’ve followed up with her to get her workshop description. She says she’ll get me the info but never does.”
“Have you thought about giving her a submission deadline and telling her that if she misses it her work won’t be included?”
“Don’t you think that’s being mean?”
“Not in the slightest. It’s simply holding her accountable for something she agreed to do.”
“Interesting, I never thought of it like that.”
Are you like Gretchen — reluctant to ask people for agreed-upon deliverables, fearful they’ll call you mean or demanding or something worse? If so, click your heels and repeat three times: holding people accountable doesn’t make me unkind. Failing to do so makes me an ineffective leader.
Ouch…who wants to be an ineffective leader?!
Holding people accountable requires embracing the leadership paradox of completing tasks and maintaining relationships. Effective leaders understand they must do both…even if they have a personal preference for one or the other. Gretchen’s preference was maintaining the relationship — even at the expense of her own performance and commitments to the organization.
Before you can lead others, you must lead yourself.
Fostering an environment of accountability means creating a collaborative model of communication, responsibilities, expectations, and consequences. If your preference is on affinity and esprit de corps, ask yourself the following three questions to assess how much you’ll need to expand your comfort zone to make room for practicing accountability.
3 comfort zone pushing accountability questions
Am I clear on what it means to hold someone accountable?
Robert Staub defines accountability as “consistently doing the right thing in both task and relationship interactions to fulfill or further the mission of the organization.” Responsibility is different from accountability in that it is what an individual demands of themself — conscience, character, goals and commitments. These terms aren’t synonyms. Like the word power, accountability reeks with bad connotations: over-bearing task-master, command-and-control freak, he/she who walks softly and carries a big stick. Banish those associations from your mind.
Why am I fearful of asking people to do what they’ve agreed to do?
Am I afraid people won’t like me? Might I get branded as someone’s who is challenging to work with (and not in a good way)? In Bass and Stoghill’s Handbook of Leadership, Bernard Bass notes that individuals who focus on relationships are “more accommodating, less able to tolerate hostility, and more anxious to be loved.” One can be kind and hold people accountable. These concepts are not mutually exclusive.
Does the thought of handling conflict and cantankerous coots send me running for the hills?
Few folks relish conflict, yet in reality, it’s a way of life. People everywhere have opinions, values and beliefs that are different from yours. Being an effective leader requires you to manage your own discomfort with conflict. That way, you can fearlessly (or nearly so!) wade in and help people manage their obligations. If you’re the one with the overall work completion “x” on your forehead, you have to belly up to the conflict bar. Failure to do so only demotivates others on the team. It’s hard to have faith in a leader who all too easily lets people off the hook, especially if you’re the one who has to pick up their slack.
“Leaders must…become better communicators and enforcers of what they want done. If you are more interested in being liked and popular than holding people accountable for results, you have a serious leadership weakness. Your job is to get them better. Holding people accountable to high standards and results is nothing to apologize for. Failing to stretch them to their potential is.” Dave Anderson, No-Nonsense Leadership
Image credit: Whitney Neal