There has been a lot written and spoken lately about accountability. However, there is a question that is not often addressed: “Do leaders actually sabotage the accountability of their people?” Effective leadership requires both talk and walk. Some leaders don’t realize how their behavior undermines their talk. The role or a specific behavior of a leader may actually diminish or undermine an individual’s need to be accountable for their work. Over the years I have identified six specific roles—there may very well be others—which impact accountability.
1. The Entitler. This leader believes he or she has to reward employees for everything they do. This behavior causes the employees to develop a sense of entitlement, and they become “coin-operated” employees. They expect or even demand reward for specific performance—especially for performance that requires them to take extra initiative. This leader’s behavior not only creates the expectation of reward, but tends to destroy individual initiative and the sense of responsibility that an individual develops for doing a great job.
Rather than be an Entitler, an effective leader should become a Motivator. Motivators get to know their employees. They look to identify personal values that inspire and motivate individuals to expand their capacity to perform at a higher level.
2. The Justifier. This leader accepts the excuses that an individual offers to explain their lack of accountability. The Justifier might say, “Oh, I can understand how that might happen. It’s okay. Let’s talk about what we should do now.” Please note: surprises do happen and priorities can certainly change, and expectations and requirements often need to accommodate those situations. But a leader who continually validates stories or excuses for non-performance sends the message that as long as you have a great story, your lack of accountability is acceptable. In essence, the Justifier enables his or her people to not keep their commitments.
Rather than be a Justifier, the leader should take steps to be an excellent Planner. A Planner explores in detail what is required to complete a particular task on time while meeting the required parameters for excellence. Poor planning usually leads to poor results.
3. The Rescuer. This leader actually does the employee’s work. This often happens with newly-promoted leaders who are more comfortable doing their old job than learning how to lead. Sometimes the Rescuer knows that the individual can’t do their job, so they just do it for them. This behavior leads to a “learned helplessness” on the part of the employee. The leader’s behavior sends the message that you do not have to be competent to do your job which sabotages accountability and sends the message that it is ok to be helpless.
Instead of being a Rescuer, leaders need to learn how to be Facilitators. Facilitators know how to move things along. They know how to use questions to discover where the employee may lack the ability to do the job, and they know how to use that information to determine a course of action that will help employees acquire necessary skills and responsibilities for their job functions.
4. The Perfector. This leader is never satisfied because nothing is ever quite good enough. These leaders are perfectionists. This behavior can often be accompanied by constant criticism of the individuals whose performance is subpar, and it turns employees into pleasers, or “yes people,” who spend their time trying to guess what the leader really wants or just always doing what the leader really wants. This behavior creates people who go along to get along. The Perfector also creates a sense of learned hopelessness in those who come to expect their best efforts to be rejected. Accountability is replaced by apathy when hard work is consistently misdirected or deemed unacceptable.
The Perfectors should look seriously at becoming Clarifiers. Clarifiers are very clear about what “perfect” and “acceptable” look like, and they make a great effort to determine whether their people have understood their expectations clearly. When people have a clear picture of what is wanted, they are far more likely to perform to that level and meet the leader’s expectations.
5. The Blamer. This type of leader seems to think that blame will motivate people to new levels of performance, and they want to make it clear that they are not to blame for less-than-desirable results. Unfortunately, this behavior creates defensiveness in everyone. People are far more interested in self-preservation than in expending their discretionary effort. No one takes risks or exercises initiative to do anything other than what they are told. In turn, the people doing the work are not only unmotivated, but when things don’t turn out right, they look for someone else to blame.
This leader needs to learn to be a Praiser. Praisers notice behaviors that contribute to superior performance, and they acknowledge individual contribution. When a task doesn’t yield the desired results, a Praiser will sit down with the employee and review processes and procedures to identify where things fell apart. Then he or she makes suggestions or helps to implement changes that will improve performance and results. These leaders celebrate success and develop skills in others to overcome deficiencies. A Praiser focuses on process and avoids punishing people.
6. The Micromanager. This leadership role is about controlling exactly what an employee does and usurping individual accountability for the work. Micromanagement usually leaves an employee feeling angry, frustrated, demoralized, and searching for another job. Micromanaging behavior sends the message, “I really don’t trust you to do your job!”
Rather than being a Micromanager, a leader should adopt the role of a Truster. A Truster is someone who allows an employee the autonomy to do the job and to learn and grow from his or her efforts. Leaders who demonstrate trust go out of their way to support and assist individuals to do their jobs and allow them to be accountable for their results.
Helping individuals, teams, and work groups to be responsible and accountable for their results is the key to productive and profitable work. To improve accountability, effective leaders evaluate how their walk matches their talk and how their behavior contributes to or detracts from the results they are trying to achieve through people.