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Accountable Leaders

The Five Characteristics of Truly Accountable Leaders

Oct. 14, 2020
Succeeding in an upended world requires stepping up in extraordinary ways.

As organizations continue to pivot in the face of the global pandemic, a few new realities are becoming increasingly apparent.

The first is that how we work will continue to be virtual and most likely give way to further workplace transformations.

The second is that employees everywhere have been rethinking what they want from their work, their leaders and their organizations. This will create both opportunities and risks for companies in the future.

Finally, to succeed in a world that has been upended will require leadership, but not just any kind—we will need truly accountable leaders at every level.

We need our leaders to continue to step up in extraordinary ways to help drive strategy execution, inspire employees and manage the uncertainty and ambiguity that organizations face.

But at a time when we need stronger-than-ever leaders, many are not. Research that I share in my new book, Accountable Leaders, reveals that 51% of leaders are mediocre and unaccountable. This was based on a global survey of close to 3,000 senior leaders across a number of sectors. They were asked to rate their organizations on a number of variables related to leadership accountability.

As a leadership advisor, I have found that accountability is what ultimately differentiates great leaders from mediocre ones. Furthermore, five behaviors set truly accountable leaders apart from the rest.

1. Hold others accountable for high standards of performance.

Accountable leaders make expectations clear by consistently reinforcing what is essential, and what employees should prioritize in their roles. Unfortunately, far too many leaders go about their work on autopilot, going from meeting to meeting, deadline to deadline, without any thought about setting high standards. Maybe they are overloaded or even burnt out and have lost passion for their work. Whatever the reason, when a leader fails to set and live up to high standards, everyone suffers.

2. Tackle tough issues and make difficult decisions

Being a leader isn't easy. There is considerable hard work, as well as tough people issues and many difficult decisions to tackle. Unfortunately, many mediocre leaders avoid the hard work, and that undermines their leadership and accountability. What they do not realize is they pay a price. In my book The Leadership Contract, I describe an idea I call The Hard Rule of Leadership. It says that when leaders avoid the hard work, they become weak. But when they have the courage to tackle the hard work, they become strong. Accountable leaders understand and ensure they have the resilience, determination, and deep sense of personal resolve they need to be effective.

3. Communicate the strategy across the organization

Leaders must ensure that employees have complete clarity regarding the company's vision, so they can do their jobs effectively. Creating a set of well-defined goals can help people stay engaged and decrease their stress levels. Clarity is foundational to accountability. When everyone is clear on what must get done, then it is easier to hold people accountable. If there is a lack of clarity, or ambiguity and outright confusion, then you create conditions that make accountability a struggle.

 4. Express optimism about the company and its future

Another behavior that accountable leaders consistently demonstrate is their ability to express optimism about the company and the future. Leaders viewed as unaccountable seem to merely go through the motions in their day-to-day work without personal investment. They may appear disengaged or unenthusiastic, which undermines the company's ability to engage employees fully. As one client said, "If leaders are not excited about what we are trying to do as a company, then our employees will never be." Many employees who work remotely can feel isolated and disconnected in the virtual world, so leaders must provide support, positive energy, and a sense of hope for the future.

As we continue to embrace the unknown in our world, it is clear that leadership accountability will become more important than ever. In fact, it has become a crucial element for future-proofing organizations in times of crisis or drastic change.

Vince Molinaro Ph.D., (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) is the author of Accountable Leaders: Inspire a Culture Where Everyone Steps Up, Takes Ownership, and Delivers Results (Wiley, June 2020). He is also the founder and CEO of Leadership Contract Inc. and is a speaker, leadership adviser and researcher. He is the author of four other books: Leadership Solutions, The Leadership Gap, The Leadership Contract, and The Leadership Contract Field Guide.


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