Accountability – It’s Not What Most People Think It Is


This week’s post comes from Dave Crumrine.

Accountability. It’s a word that seems to evoke a host of negative emotions when used. As much as the word has been defined, written about, and discussed as an essential leadership concept, it simply doesn’t get positive traction in most followers’ minds.

Add the advanced leadership theory to it- “You can’t make anybody do anything they don’t want to do.”  You can argue with it or override it short term, but you can’t deny it is true. 

My personal theory on why accountability as an idea has taken a hit, is that it has been used incorrectly…many times and for a very long time. You see, accountability after the fact is simply punishment, and it doesn’t work. Labeling punishment as accountability is wrong and deceptive. Punishment doesn’t set people up for success nor drive future success. It doesn’t build rapport or performance. It is simply extracting pain in hopes to teach someone a lesson. “After-the-fact” accountability is what has given the word a bad rap. 

We need to step up and get this idea right; if we do, there is a huge benefit to the people we lead, our organization, and ourselves. In fact, I would make the case that setting up strong “real” accountability is an essential leadership responsibility. As leaders, we need to own a large part of how accountability plays out. Good or bad, it’s mostly on us.

So, at the risk of short changing many thick management texts and long winded authors, here are the key ideas that are required for strong accountability:

  • The exact assignment and desired outcomes must be well defined for the person who will be carrying it out.
  • Only one person can be accountable for something…period.
  • That one person needs to know why this assignment is important and what consequences (positive and negative) are likely to occur for everyone involved based on their performance.
  • That person must also buy into these rationales and agree to “own” the results.

All we need now for “good accountability” is to help that team member in assessing the progress of the assignment. When accountability is properly established, human nature takes over and people become the great performers they can be. As leaders, we need to embrace this enabling skill and set up great accountability. 

How are you doing setting up your people for success with great accountability?

Continue Leading the Interstates Way!
Dave Crumrine