Every leader wants to have a team who hold themselves and one another accountable. Such a team is easy to manage because in many ways they manage themselves. They take personal responsibility. More importantly, if given clear direction, the accountable team produces. The individuals take responsibility for themselves and keep one another on track. The things (or people) that hinder the process are addressed quickly.
While a team like this is fun to think about, it is difficult to establish. There are many ways to go about it but in order to do this successfully there is one step that must always be taken by the leader of the group.
Be the first to own it.
Lead by showing, not talking. Take responsibility for you first. There are sayings out there that seem to suggest that leaders should only take responsibility for failures, and give responsibility for success to their employees and team. I would argue that this is a shallow reading and doesn’t get at the heart of accountability in leadership. Let’s look at both scenarios.
Success – How should a leader own success? Great leaders know that success is never a single-handed achievement. Our successes always come through teamwork. Even so called individual sports involve and coach and training team. So the leader owns success by understanding and recognizing the contribution of each member of the team, including their own. While it is important for a leader to spend the majority of their time focused on the success of the team and it’s members, a leader must never deny or minimize their own contribution. There may be situation here or there where it is appropriate to do so, but if it becomes a regular thing you will start to erode your team’s confidence in you.
Failure – How should a leader own failure? In this case, the leader takes a bigger share of the responsibility. Very rarely does failure ultimately belong somewhere else since the leader is the one driving the process and ultimately has decision making power. Again though, it is crucial for a leader to understand the contribution of each member of the team. If a leader takes too much responsibility for a failure then the others who contributed to it will not grow and develop. They need to be accountable too. The key here is that the leader must own it first. It is very difficult to admit that you let the team down, but if you begin with a candid acknowledgement of your error, combined with a plan to rectify the issue, the door is open for the team to follow suit. And they usually will.
It is often through failure that teams can really grow. By owning it first and being accountable to the team you make it safe for others to be honest and accountable. Through repetition and positive reinforcement you can begin to create a culture of accountability, and ultimately build a self-sustaining and self-correcting team. That makes everyone’s lives a lot better.