How a leader models accountability

Accountability is something you choose to exhibit – it is not assigned to you. CEOs often express frustration over the lack of accountability they see in their organizations. But great leaders understand they must model accountability, not just mandate it.

In their book “The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual And Organizational Accountability,” authors Roger Connors and Tom Smith write, “Taking personal accountability means making a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results – to see it, own it, solve it and do it.”

As these authors emphasize, personal accountability is both a choice and a mindset. Specifically, it means that you are 100% responsible for:

    • your choices
    • your feelings
    • your opinions
    • your beliefs
    • your actions
    • the results and the consequences of all the above.

Organizational accountability occurs only when individuals behave accordingly, and, an organization won’t be accountable unless the CEO is accountable. A study in Harvard Business Review revealed that almost 50% of managers are terrible at accountability.

What can executive coaches do to jumpstart accountability in CEOs and business owners? Here are eight points to bring up in the discussion:

1. Be brutally honest with yourself.

The first step for the CEO to solve an accountability problem is for him to admit there is an organizational problem, and that the CEO is part of it. Ask the CEO to create a list of unfulfilled promises over the last six months, both professionally and personally. Ask: What are the major reasons for breaking your promises? What changes do you want to make?

2. Commit to a new mindset of personal accountability.

The CEO should choose a period of time, such as three months, during which she will honor 100% of her promises.

3. Don’t over-commit.

Discuss the CEO’s major commitments: Does he have adequate resources (time, money and people) to execute on these promises?

4. Develop a tracking system.

Whether it is a manual list or an app, the CEO can find a system she wants to use. She should capture her commitments as soon as they are made. The CEO can periodically review the list and re-prioritize, if necessary. It won’t take long for the leader’s team to notice their new behavior and will begin to trust and respect their leader more.

After the initial three months, the CEO can publicly admit that she has not been 100% personally accountable in the past, but during the last three months has tracked and honored each commitment. The CEO can ask employees for help by giving them permission to speak up if the CEO regresses to past behavior.

5. Listen for clues that you are not personally accountable.

Ask the CEO if he ever hears himself say “It’s beyond my control” or “Something more important came up.” If this is the case, he should ask himself: “How am I responsible and accountable?” Then publicly regroup and rephrase using “I” statements such as, “I am sorry. That was not an accountable response. Here is what I want to say.”

6. Restate your commitments.

Tell the CEO that restating her commitments at the end of every meeting is valuable along with saying when she will fulfill them.

7. Monitor your progress.

The CEO can work with you to periodically evaluate what percentage of his commitments he keeps. In what areas does he need the most work? In what areas is he succeeding?

Personal responsibility shifts a leader’s perspective and eliminates their excuses. Great leaders understand this and model accountability, not just mandate it. As a CEO coach, you can jumpstart the valuable process for a CEO to take a real look at their personal accountability and spark change toward being a leader whose commitments are consistently fulfilled.

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About the Author: Cheryl McMillan

Cheryl is a Vistage Master Chair and Executive Coach. She has a passion for raising awareness in leaders about how their choices and unconscious actions impact their results. She leads two C-Suite peer advisory boards, comprised of CEO's or …

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  1. Great article Cheryl!
    “I have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo

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