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Board Of Advisors

Leadership Accountability: What Board Members Should Be Asking Themselves and Their CEO

Jan. 28, 2022
Two-thirds of senior executives say they don't have the leadership culture they need to drive their company's success.

A while back I was chatting with the director of a board of a global engineering company. She had served on the board when the company experienced a significant financial scandal. It was a nightmare and disaster for the company—her words. It consumed the board that was now overseeing the aftermath. She described it as a trying and stressful period, something she would never want to experience again.

Boards that have had to deal with scandal, misconduct or corruption on the part of senior executives know the costs and reputational damage that can occur. These issues fall squarely on the board to address and resolve. Increasingly, boards are assuming greater oversight over leadership accountability and culture. 

I define leadership accountability as all leaders in a stepping up and demonstrating personal ownership for their roles and ensuring they lead in a deliberate and decisive manner every single day.

Unfortunately, my global research reveals that many leaders are struggling to live up to these expectations. For example, in my book Accountable Leaders, I share findings of my global research that 72% of companies surveyed believe leadership accountability is a critical business issue. Yet only 31% are satisfied with the degree of accountability demonstrated in their organization.

In addition, 66% of senior executives state that they don’t have the leadership culture they need to drive their company's future success. These are significant leadership gaps that must be addressed, and the board has a critical role to play.

A recent report produced by The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) states that culture is a unifying force that will positively reinforce the strategy and business model when it is healthy and robust. In contrast, a dysfunctional or weak culture can undermine strategy execution and create significant risk for a company. Boards need to think about leadership accountability in the same way—as a risk issue requiring their oversight.

Therefore, the board must work to ensure that a company has strong leadership accountability in place. The best way it can do this is by ensuring that the CEO is paying attention to leadership accountability and taking actions to make it as strong as can be.

If you are currently sitting on a company board, below you will find some questions that you can use to help you determine if the CEO and company are on the right track when it comes to building strong leadership accountability.

1. Does the CEO demonstrate strong leadership accountability at a personal level? When things go wrong, an accountable CEO accepts responsibility, rather than lay blame on external factors or others within the company.

2. To what extent have the board and CEO had discussions to clarify the leadership culture needed to achieve strategic objectives? An accountable board regularly discusses leadership culture and digs in to understand the current strengths and gaps that might create risk to the execution of the business strategy?

3. Do the CEO and the senior executive team set the tone as accountable leaders? An accountable CEO does a good job of setting clear expectations for all leaders and expects other members of the senior management team to hold teams accountable and address performance issues in a timely manner.

4. Are you confident that the organization has a strong human resources leader in place? A strong HR leader thinks strategically and is capable of building and scaling leadership accountability across the organization?

5. Have the CEO and head of human resources worked to create a clear set of leadership expectations for all leaders? An accountable organization defines what it means to be a leader in the company and has a clear set of expectations for leaders. The leadership behavior that is determined to be most critical to success is clearly communicated and cascades throughout the organization.

6. Do the CEO and head of human resources share information with the board about the state of leadership accountability? If the Board is going to support the CEO’s efforts to build strong leadership accountability, then it needs the data that helps confirm areas of strength within the company, and areas that need further attention.

If you find yourself answering yes to most of these questions, then you are most likely in a strong position. However, if you find yourself answering no to several of these questions, then you need to start addressing the problems you see and engage in a conversation with the board and/or your CEO.

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D.,(Ontario, Canada) is founder and CEO of Leadership Contract Inc. and is an author, speaker, leadership adviser and researcher. His work has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes and the World EconomicForum.

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