Holding Leaders Accountable

Definition:  Accountability is being responsible for the outcomes of your actions or your team.

To be held accountability one needs to have the potential to succeed in the role.  To identify role potential, talent acquisition strategies should use assessments or measurements.  Succession decisions should be based on performance and not tenure.  Performance is not only the right person, but also an organization that designs and supports the leader in the role.

Simons (2005) indicates a well-designed role will provide the following:

  1. Control of resources to complete the job. The proper span of control allows the leader to make the necessary decisions.  Large organizations foster a lack of accountability by conducting “management by committee.”  Group decision making makes it easy to pass the blame to the group rather than accepting responsibility as an individual.
  2. Access to those who can assist task completion. Leaders should create teams and connections to provide the necessary knowledge.  Task interdependence can vary, but the leader may need information beyond organizational silos.
  3. Support when help is needed. Leaders complete tasks through the action of their followers.  Authenticity and trust are key to obtaining follower & customer support.
  4. Knowledge on how performance will be measured. The work goal should be clear so the leader knows what is expected.  Being held accountable indicates an outcome (typically rewards or punishment) that contribute to motivating the behavior.  It’s important that individuals are measured the same way to ensure a climate of fairness.  Employees distrust organizations that hold individuals to different standards.

It is important to understand the impact of the organization on the leader’s behaviors.  In the classic article “On the Folly of Rewarding A, while Hoping for B” Kerr (1995), writes that by rewarding the wrong behavior, organizations are reinforcing that behavior.  An honest look at the company culture may find blockers that are impeding the leader’s performance.  In the end leaders are going to be held accountable for their actions, it is best to provide them with the opportunity for success.

Kerr, S.  (1995).  On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B.  The Academy of Management Executive, 9(1), 7-14.
Ricks, T.E. (2012).  What ever happened to accountability?  Harvard Business Review, 90(10), 93-100.
Simons, R. (2005).   Designing high-performance jobs.   Harvard Business Review, 83(7/8), 54-62.

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