Why Accountability is Important in Leadership Roles 

Why Accountability is Important in Leadership Roles 

Accountability is a trending term drawing more and more attention from businesses and HR professionals. It’s something many companies seek to implement, but struggle to fully understand. The key to strong team accountability is to embed it in leadership roles. 

Focused team brainstorming with a woman writing on a whiteboard, colleagues watching.

What Is Accountability in Leadership?

So, what does accountability actually mean? Accountable individuals are those who take ownership of their work in order to best contribute to someone or something. These individuals are valued in business because they take their work seriously, and they require less management. In essence, an accountable employee gets their work done on time, takes pride in creating quality work, and cares about the company’s well-being. 

Accountable leaders do what’s needed for their team and company to achieve goals. They have the same qualities as an accountable employee, but with the added responsibility of supporting their team. Team leaders have a lot on their plate, but taking time to cultivate accountability will make their work and lives much easier. 

Accountability can appear in a lot of different ways, such as by meeting deadlines, admitting when a mistake is made, or putting in extra hours when needed. Here are three key measures for identifying accountability in leadership:

Performance: Does the leader complete necessary tasks and achieve goals? Does their work meet the company’s quality standards? 

Culture embodiment: Does the leader embody company values, missions, and purpose? Are they a fit for the culture, and do they progress it?

Team advocacy: Does the leader support their team and actively engage in their professional development?

Why Is Accountability Important in Leadership?

Poor leadership accountability can damage company morale, culture, and success. Conversely, strong leadership accountability has been associated with more trust between team members and their leaders. One study found that employees at high-trust companies report:

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 40% less burnout

This bi-directional trust allows employees to feel confident in the decisions leaders make and allows leaders to trust that employees will take ownership of their work. Through accountability comes empowerment, which creates a deeper sense of purpose in both leaders and their teams. It also boosts communication and allows for illuminating, free-flowing conversations. 

When employees feel they can freely share their perspectives, it generates more team engagement and better company decision-making. Leaders that allow their team to play a valued part in the company’s operations lead to better business outcomes. 

With trust also comes transparency. Accountability doesn’t just mean making sure one’s work gets done. It means having a commitment to one’s team and the company. If a leader makes a mistake, taking accountability for it creates greater trust, transparency, and, ultimately, better problem-solving capabilities. The more people are aware of the mistake, the more resources are available to solve it. 

One vital element to building trust through accountable leadership is to eliminate fear. If employees constantly fear they’ll be reprimanded for mistakes or shot down for sharing an idea, then they won’t be able to build trust. Fearing the ability to communicate, ask questions, or make mistakes only draws leaders further away from their team. 

What Do the Three Cs of Accountability Stand For?

While the benefits of accountability are complex, implementing it can be quite simple. To better define, recognize, and implement accountability, look to the three Cs:

Clarity: Are all requirements understood? Many leaders get stuck in the big picture focusing on goals, objectives, and key results. While the big picture is important, it’s also crucial to ensure team members have all the details needed to meet their requirements. And don’t forget to create space for them to ask questions.

Providing full transparency and insights into how a team’s work impacts the company will also lead to stronger accountability. For example, share financial overviews or happenings in other departments with the team. Even if the insights don’t pertain directly to the team’s work, they’ll still appreciate the honesty and feel more involved in the business. 

Commitment: Leaders must give their team the room and trust they need to be accountable. Micromanaging won’t achieve accountability. Focus on outcomes more than how those outcomes are reached.

This is especially useful for leaders who manage remote teams. You won’t be able to stop by a team member’s office or see them doing their work all day. So the commitment should be to the team and its goals, as opposed to a process.

Courage: Have courage when speaking to team members, particularly when providing feedback and offering transparency. It can be easy to shy away from difficult conversations. But, oftentimes, those can be the most beneficial to the company.

If a team member isn’t performing well or if a conflict occurs, address it directly and early on. This will help to mitigate further damage, lead to a quicker solution, and show team members that their leader is involved and actively working to their benefit. 

What Is a Team Leader Accountable For?

Team leaders aren’t only accountable for themselves, but for their whole team. In order for a leader to be accountable for their team, they must instill accountability in its members. If a team leader is accountable in these four areas, that will, in turn, help create a more accountable team. They are:

Recruitment: A team leader is responsible for recruiting skilled and competent team members. For many companies, HR professionals, and team leaders, hiring employees is one of the most challenging tasks. Having a strategy in place that identifies necessary qualities and qualifications will help to streamline the hiring process.

Recruitment also spans beyond just hiring team members but also to assigning them roles and responsibilities. To best utilize team members and their skills, leaders should take time to understand their strengths and weaknesses. 

Communication: You’ve already learned a bit about the importance of transparent communication. Leaders should share updates and insights into the company to build awareness and accountability in their teams. How can you expect people to care about a company if they don’t know what’s going on?

Team leaders should also aim for frequent and thorough communication, regularly reminding the team of their goals. Communication is a two-way street allowing team members regular opportunities to vocalize how their work is going and how they feel about current projects. 

Feedback: Give team members regular feedback to help them grow. This also shows the team that their leader cares and is willing to invest time, effort, and resources into their professional development. Along with communication, feedback is another two-way street. Make sure the team has opportunities to share their thoughts on leadership.

It’s important for team members to feel they can honestly provide feedback on leadership without fear of being reprimanded. The more feedback is given and received in a team, the more normalized, comfortable, and effective it becomes. 

Showing appreciation: Have you ever had or observed a boss who’s always complaining and pointing out flaws? This type of leader instills fear in their team and lowers morale.

A team leader should avoid only pointing out the negatives and take time to point out the positives. Give credit to team members when they do good work. This form of acknowledgment helps to build stronger connections and trust. 

How to Improve Leadership Accountability

This article has already explored a few ways to improve leadership accountability, such as reducing fear, building trust, communicating transparently, and providing the team with the clarity they need and the credit they deserve. Here are a few other tips for improving leadership accountability:

Create an environment for experimentation: Employees should feel like they can vocalize ideas and experiment, and this feeling starts with leadership. If leadership regularly experiments and shares ideas with their team, team members are likely to follow suit. 

Practice active listening: Good leaders are good listeners who take the time to observe what’s happening in their team. If a leader doesn’t know the status of their team, they’ll struggle to improve it. 

Implement a coaching and training program: Coaches or mentors provide valuable insights to employees, though there should be professional development training for every level of employee, including those in leadership roles. The more a company cares about its team, the more its team will care about the company. Such professional training doesn’t have to be too time-consuming. 

Establish strong values: Make it well known what the company values most, and ensure it’s incorporated into the leadership style as well. When in doubt, an accountable leader should turn to these values for guidance. 

Build up the team: Hold regular performance evaluations and opportunities to share feedback with the team. A leader should also make a conscious effort to hold team-building events and establish connections among team members. 

Show compassion: Mistakes happen and crises occur. This is inevitable for every team, no matter how well prepared they are. An accountable leader is responsible for addressing issues and helping their team recover. This means showing compassion and empathy, even when someone makes a mistake.

Let the team know that they’re supported and provide the necessary guidance. To learn more about how to be a compassionate and empathetic leader, download KnowledgeCity’s free guide to Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

So, why is accountability important in leadership? Accountability in leadership is crucial not only for being an effective leader, but for cultivating an accountable workforce as a whole. It creates an environment of trust and creativity that allows team members to feel heard, supported, and invested in the company. Use the tips and techniques explored in this article to inspire your team and lead by example. 

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