When it comes to leadership, a sound understanding of accountability is paramount. In senior roles, clear accountability is critical to organisational structure and performance.
Most organisations hold people accountable by having them report to someone more senior. I’m a strong believer in an alternative view. In my mind, the highest performing organisations allow people to hold themselves accountable. More so, the very best leaders are those who can hold themselves accountable and draw confirmation from those around them, rather than those more senior. Accountability is something that must sit with someone. It’s something people carry. It’s not transferable, nor can it be effectively managed through someone else’s oversight.
The way people behave is very much driven by the way they are assessed. Creating an environment where people act in a way that satisfies those more senior, to whom they report, drives negative behaviour. Often these behaviours are isolating, confining, and focused towards satisfying one individual or small group. It forces people to protect or hide problems, filtering only positive information upwards, and influences people to behave based on how someone more senior would behave.
The alternative, and far more effective approach, is allowing leaders to be accountable to themselves by gaining confirmation from those around them. This removes the stigma of worrying about how something will be received or interpreted by those more senior. It encourages people to take responsibility for decisions, acting authentically to the problem, without fear of being judged. It brings problems more readily to the surface, for resolution rather than avoidance.
Many organisations talk positively about delegating responsibility. This alone is not enough. It’s how you deal with accountability that either restricts an organisation or allows it to prosper. The ultimate benefit in allowing accountability to sit with someone, is the gain in trust that results, and how it can empower people. The concept of reporting upward to someone is flawed. Having a more senior person holding someone else accountable, is undermining and erodes trust.
So, to all the aspiring leaders, I offer simple advice. Be comfortable carrying accountability, and don’t expect anyone else to hold you accountable for it.