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Responsibility and accountability

4 min read


This post is excerpted with permission from “No-Drama Leadership: How Enlightened Leaders Transform Culture in the Workplace,” by Marlene Chism (Bibliomotion, 2015).

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The difficult conversations avoided today become the lawsuit the company fights a decade later. Every single day, supervisors and managers complain about employees’ behavior and lack of accountability, but ultimately the problem is the leader’s lack of responsibility, the evidence of which is the evasion of difficult conversations.

If leaders are unwilling to take ownership, how can those same leaders blame the employee? Signs that indicate a lack of leadership include:

  • Blaming employees instead of coaching them
  • Avoiding performance feedback
  • Gossiping about the employee’s ineffectiveness
  • Transferring the troublemaker to another department
  • Firing a long-term employee who has had no warning
  • Making excuses for the lack of clear direction
  • Failing to communicate expectations

There are many reasons individual leaders struggle with responsibility and accountability. Here are four of the main ones:

  1. They do not understand the distinction between responsibility and accountability.
  2. They do not have appropriate support or resources.
  3. They have a skills gap.
  4. They lack discipline.

Failing to understand the distinction between being responsible and being accountable is a chief reason leaders struggle. Responsibility comes from the heart and accountability from the head. You accept responsibility, but accountability (to superiors, stockholders, and perhaps the public) can in a sense be forced on you. We talk about being held accountable, which suggests punishment, blame, and shame.

The second reason some people resist accountability is that they have not had the proper support or resources. When someone has responsibility for a job and is measured on his effectiveness, he will avoid accountability if he is not confident he can accomplish the job. The right support and resources fixes this problem.

The third reason leaders sometimes avoid accountability is a skills gap. They may be disorganized, not know how to delegate, or simply may not be critical thinkers. I’ve seen even high-level leaders who did not get back to people, dropped balls, and made promises that were not fulfilled unless they were reminded again and again. These patterns indicate a potential problem with accountability because the leaders do not have the right skill set.

The fourth problem is discipline. Sometimes leaders have too much power, and because no one seems to be holding them accountable, they lose awareness that their own lack of discipline sets a bad example.

The more these kinds of problems are tolerated, the more poor decisions affect the culture. The only reason an employee is disruptive, lazy, confrontational, or ineffective is because it is allowed. When a leader has a drama perspective, she blames the employee. Initially, blaming feels better than taking responsibility. As long as the problem is Ron, Rick, or Randy’s performance, there’s no personal development and no personal responsibility required on the part of the leader

A leader with a more enlightened approach asks, “What can this employee teach me about my leadership weaknesses?” These kinds of questions are never asked until you shift your identity from supervisor to leader. Companies that consciously decide to develop leadership identity have much more success with creating a culture of accountability.

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker, and the author of two books: “No-Drama Leadership: How Enlightened Leaders Transform Culture in the Workplace” (Bibliomotion 2015) and “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011). Chism’s passion is developing wise leaders and helping people discover, develop and deliver their gifts to the world.

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