Our So Called Values – the nature and nuances of accountability

Why would you want to be held accountable if you could avoid it? Why would you intentionally set yourself up to be publicly hanged if you had other options?

On the other hand, what if being measurably accountable – especially when things went wrong – was seen as a sign of strength throughout your organization? What if being willing to be accountable could help you get that next raise or promotion? What if everyone was willing to be accountable and by adopting that posture, you were individually and collectively able to produce dramatically better results?

Those two diametrically opposing realities: accountability vs. non-accountability, is the choice you, as a leader, must make in determining which one you want to build your culture around. If you choose accountability, you must commit to positively acknowledging the people that are willing to be accountable when not meeting commitments.

Many leaders I have talked to over the years have asked me why would you want to positively acknowledge people that fail to meet their commitments?

My answer is: I’m not acknowledging their failure; I’m acknowledging their courage. When people are open about their “misses” it signals that they are willing to learn. And as a leader, it’s up to you to set up the mechanisms to correct mistakes by teaching people new skills or introducing new behaviors that have a better chance of being successful.

Creating a culture of accountability – what to do:
  • Look deeply at yourself. Determine what YOU are willing to be held accountable for. Accountability only works in a leadership by example culture. Anything short of that is delusional.
  • Once you determine your own tolerance for accountability, apply the same standard to your senior leadership team. Same principles apply. If members of your senior team are not willing to be as accountable as you, you have a serious issue. Confront and resolve it before you move forward. You have 3 options: Get everyone on the same page as you; or change your standards; or change your team member(s). It’s tough love – and it’s necessary.
  • Carefully frame and craft the message about what accountability means – it’s about continuous improvement, growth, and mastery – it’s NOT about punishment. Of course, that is only true in cases of making mistakes in the process of learning and experimenting – punishment should always apply when people commit moral or legal crimes – like the fiascos at Wells Fargo Bank, Volkswagen, and Enron.
  • Establish a company-wide framework, along with the processes and procedures for positively acknowledging people that excel and people that have missed the mark. And stick with it.
  • Set up and implement the coaching mechanisms for increasing everyone’s ability and progress in making and meeting their commitments.

The roadmap is simple. The journey is hard. The strong-willed make it happen. The rest settle for a standard that is less than great. It’s a choice.

Next time, I’ll talk about situational values. Stay tuned.


Bill is a Managing Partner at Axies Group – a consulting firm, focused primarily on helping leaders develop Balanced Organizations, focused on Vision, Values, Values-driven leadership, Culture, Strategy and Greater Purpose. Clients range from Fortune 500’s to mid-size companies to start-ups in many industries He has also been the CEO of both publicly held and privately owned companies. His book: Brand Delusions looks at Brands from a holistic perspective and has been critically acclaimed. You can learn more about him at: www.axiesgroup.com.