The buck stops with you

2014

If you aspire to be a leader, you have to accept that you are where the buck stops. If you’re not prepared to take responsibility and be accountable, look for another role.

Years ago leaders may have been regarded as untouchable and considered themselves above the law but in today's business world and with a 24/7 media spotlight, leaders have to be accountable for their behaviour. No more passing the buck or trying to cover your tracks when things go wrong.

Employees, customers and business partners all expect managers today to be open, honest and honourable in their actions and those that aren't will soon see the affect it has on their leadership status, their team's and the company's performance.

What is accountability?

Firstly it is honouring your commitments and following through on your word, especially in challenging circumstances. You may even make a personal sacrifice, or use your initiative to go beyond what’s expected of you so you stick to your promise and deliver to an agreed goal.

Secondly, it is about accepting responsibility for your actions and outcomes, whether they are good or bad. Blaming others or making excuses such as "the economy is affecting my results" is not an option. If you make a mistake then admit it and move on so you keep a project on track. If you don't take responsibility then you become a victim and that is the exact opposite to being a leader.

This may sound straightforward enough but only a few leaders worldwide are prepared to accept the accountability that comes with the job. We (Forum) undertook an accountability survey in 2014, polling 640 managers and executives around the globe. We found that almost half - 46% - are unwilling to be the 'here' at which the buck stops.

Only half claim to see their boss model accountable behaviour, with 58% of leaders not keeping their promises and only 35% sharing information widely so people can be clear on their responsibilities.

So, what if I'm not accountable?

To answer this question, let's look at what a workplace looks like without a culture of accountability.

It's a place where everyone points the finger or goes on the defence when things go wrong. You'll often hear phrases like 'That's not my problem' or see people acting confused or pretending to be helpless so they can't be held to task on actions. People will do the bare minimum and put off the important things rather than stick their neck out in case they're help responsible should things go wrong. Deadlines get missed, people are used as scapegoats and trust breaks down.

The end result is a disengaged and under-achieving team with people too afraid to use their imitative and where high performers leave.

In contrast, leaders that model accountable behaviour and know how to drive it through others will create a climate of trust, which enhances performance. The evidence that trust improves engagement is overwhelming, and the main triggers for inspiring trust also create an accountable culture. For example, trust is built when managers follow through on commitments, they walk the talk and they encourage people to use their initiative and take the lead on ideas.

To establish an accountable culture, managers need to build on these trust triggers and ensure that everyone is clear on their commitments. Ensure that goals are clear, people know who is responsible for what, and they know how to work together to get there.

At this point, it's important to address any differences in how commitments will be achieved and to resolve any dilemmas or challenges. If there are any resource issues, you need to be banging the drum to ensure that everyone has the right tools to honor their word. Also, don't let people worry about being ostracized for mistake or failure otherwise the team will be reluctant to execute new ideas, take on challenges or take ownership for anything, which stifles innovation and growth.

If people know they have a support network behind them then they will be more encouraged to take the lead on tasks and be accountable for their actions which, in turn, will leave them more engrossed, enthused and motivated by their work.

If there is an accountability gap in your team then performance management and coaching are both an effective means to close it. It's the ideal opportunity to address all the areas key to building an accountable climate, such as clarity on commitments, resources available, challenges ahead and to lend reassurance and support. If your organization doesn’t do this ask yourself why. And remember, the buck starts and stops with your leaders.

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About The Author

Graham Scrivener
Graham Scrivener

Graham Scrivener, Managing Director of Forum EMEA, a UK-based provider of leadership development and sales performance training.