Just a quick glance at any of the recent business headlines will make one think that accountability is quickly becoming a rarity within many organizations.  This should be cause for some concern. 

Why does holding people accountable seem like such a difficult task? 

As leaders, what can we do to ensure we encourage a culture of accountability?

1. Start with You

The first key is to hold yourself accountable. Hold yourself to a higher standard than the rest of the organization. 

Keep your integrity intact and do the right thing.

Be aware that doing the right thing may not always have favorable circumstances, particularly if you are swimming upstream in a toxic culture.

2. Cut Your Losses

While your actions are noble, they will likely not always be universally accepted.  You may be subjected to harassment and bullying. 

While this is never okay, you must make a choice as to what is more important: Your job or your integrity?

While having a good salary and a respectable title may be nice, it is no substitute for a clear conscience and being able to rest at night.

There may come a time where you need cut your losses (as painful as it may be) and move on.

3. Make it Safe

Most leaders and employees genuinely want to do the right thing.

But there is an undercurrent of fear of retaliation, job loss, among other concerns.

What if I’m Wrong?

A common reason that people don’t hold one another accountable is a fear of being wrong. 

What if I call out this leader and I am wrong?

What if their behavior really is not that bad?

What if I am being sensitive?

These are valid thoughts. But if you have concerns about certain behaviors and actions, you are likely not the only one.

Most good leaders and employees want to know what perceptions exist about them.

You may be doing more of a disservice by not providing them with this feedback. As a leader, your role is to make employees feel safe and empowered to be able to deliver these concerns.

What if I’m Right?

The corollary is a fear of being right. A leader or employee you respect is actually participating in poor behavior or questionable business practices.

This creates a whole new world of problems that you were probably not wanting to step into. 

Related:  Leaders, It Takes Courage To Talk About Safety

In the wise words of a physician I used to work with, “Don’t poke a skunk.”

What bigger skunk to poke than a leader who is engaged in bad behavior?

The larger concern should be, what if you were right and did nothing about it?

What if you were right and could have prevented workplace harassment? 

What if you were right and could have prevented the downfall of the company? 

Reward Accountability

The old leadership adage, “what you permit you promote” is very true here. If employees see leaders getting away with bad behavior, then they feel like they can do the same.

However, if they see accountable employees being recognized or rewarded for their courage, then this could be the impetus needed to start a culture shift.

These rewards don’t necessarily have to be financial.  It could be as meaningful as a recognition from a senior leader or a shout out at a staff meeting.

Within healthcare, there are often “Good Catch” awards given when a staff member picks up on a potential error preventing it from reaching the patient. 

There may be a similar means to recognize staff across various industries.

The point is, the more an organization shows staff it values accountability, the more likely employees are to mirror and promote accountability.

It Starts With You

A leader who does not hold herself accountable cannot expect to have employees that hold themselves accountable.

An organization that lacks accountability is doomed for failure. 

If you already have a solid culture of accountability, that’s great. If not, the three steps outlined here are a great way to get you started:

  • Start with yourself
  • Make if safe
  • Reward Accountability

The path to becoming an accountable leader is not easy. But the long-term benefits both to yourself and the organization are immeasurable.

How Can Leaders Hold Themselves Accountable?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Robbie Price
Robbie is currently the Managing Director for Stroobants Cardiovascular Center in Lynchburg, VA. He has 20 years of experience in healthcare, mostly in cardiology, working as a bedside nurse, cardiology nurse practitioner and currently in a leadership role. He enjoys spending time with his family, reading & writing. You can check out his blog here.
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