The Best-Kept Secrets of Exceptional Leaders (No. 5 Is Key)

Article | Accountability Insights

by  | Aug 22, 2017

Leaders who have the most impact know how to hold others accountable. But how? Here are five secrets they know (and you probably don’t).
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Read the original article published on Inc. Magazine: The Best-Kept Secrets of Exceptional Leaders (No. 5 Is Key)

Accountability gives impetus to greater results. Getting accountability right can transform a culture of sarcasm and finger-pointing to a culture of empowerment where employees are eager to take ownership over problems. The more empowered and engaged employees are, the more results a company achieves. It’s that simple.

Or so it seems. In a comprehensive workplace accountability study conducted by Partners In Leadership of over 40,000 workers across industries, seventy-two percent of people we surveyed said they were holding people accountable, but rarely with success. Fifty percent said they disliked accountability because they did not know how to implement it effectively.

Too often, leaders don’t know what accountability looks like, much less how to implement accountability in an organization. That’s why we’re revealing the best-kept secrets that exceptional leaders use to identify the characteristics of an accountable culture, elevate accountability from a buzzword to a business philosophy, drive greater ownership for achieving the desired results, and ultimately create a more productive, happier workforce.

Here’s how you set your team on the path to greater accountability–and greater results.

1. Set clear expectations.

Achieving results requires clarity around expectations and outcomes–so it’s on you as a leader to affirm (and reaffirm) that everyone understands what they need to do to achieve success.

If employees are not following through on their obligations, a simple place to begin is to clarify expectations. Make sure your expectations identify the measurable outcomes that need to be achieved and by when. Check in regularly to ensure that your team is on track.

When unforeseen obstacles arise, as they always do, encourage employees to communicate openly and proactively. And be realistic about what your employees can handle. Avoid overburdening your team to get the results you want, when you want them.

2. Measure and report progress.

Be transparent and open when measuring and reporting progress. Eighty-five percent of respondents to our survey indicated that they did not even understand their organization’s Key Results. Tie your expectations to your organization’s Key Results. Make sure employees can connect what they do everyday to the organization’s Key Results. While priorities are always changing, it’s important that employees understand why–and that you give them ample time to make the necessary adjustments. Remind them that a change in priorities doesn’t mean a change in the Key Results that define success for the organization.

3. Give and receive feedback.

Keeping the feedback loop open is also crucial to great leadership. It’s easy to fall into the trap of giving feedback only when something goes wrong, but that conditions employees associate feedback with failure or punishment. Given this negative association, it’s no surprise that only 20% of survey respondents indicated that they actively seek and offer feedback. Instead, give feedback when things are going right as often as when things are not going right. And always ask for feedback as often as you give it.

4. Encourage risk taking.

Collaboration and innovation is fostered in an environment where risk-taking is encouraged–even when a project or action isn’t guaranteed to succeed. In too many organizations, the fear of punishment strongly deters risk-taking. Only 20% of survey respondents saw risk-taking as a strength and more than half of organizations admit to playing the “blame game” when something goes wrong.

Sometimes the only way to achieve success is to take risks along the way. Strive to build a culture of trust, collaboration, and transparency by letting employees take risks and learn from failures. Encourage employees to engage in creative problem-solving so they can learn what it feels like to overcome obstacles together.

5. Inspire employees to take ownership.

Accountability is all about ownership. But 81% of our survey respondents cited an inability to follow through on commitments as the biggest problem they experienced with coworkers. An employee who skirts his responsibilities, letting others pick up the slack, does little to encourage a proactive, dynamic company culture.

Keep employees focused by ensuring that everyone is on board with the organization’s Key Results. Recognize those who regularly follow through on commitments, as well as those who take accountability when they fail to hit a deadline. Praise employees who take initiative beyond their everyday tasks by asking, “What else can I do?”

Greater results start here

Of the thousands of people we surveyed, nearly 90% agreed that they needed to do a better job holding their employees accountable for specific outcomes — and that if they failed to do so, it would affect their ability to get results for the organization. As a leader, foster a culture of accountability in which employees:

  • Take deadlines seriously and communicate consistently
  • Feel personally responsible to the organization to complete tasks on time
  • Are comfortable giving and receiving feedback
  • Confront obstacles creatively and collaboratively
  • Take ownership and ask, “What else can I do?”

For more information on how to achieve a Culture of Accountability in your organization, check out our Accountability Builder training and consulting programs.


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