Lead by Personal Accountability



By Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

We all hear a lot about the importance of accountability in our organizations. Accountability is a form of trustworthiness; being responsible for one’s decisions and behaviors.

Employees from all positions can be frustrated when there is a lack of accountability in the workplace. Unfortunately, while most people are concerned about accountability, it is usually perceived as someone else’s problem. Have you ever heard comments such as “I don’t know why we identified the action items, no one ever follows through.” “People around here are just so negative, no one helps anyone out anymore.” “Why do I always have to remind people to do their job?” “They need to improve.” “They aren’t accountable.” The focus is on fixing the behaviors of others.

Effects of low accountability can have an enormous impact on a company as a whole, and on supervisors in particular. As a supervisor, you are generally responsible for the day-to-day performance of a group. Your job is to guide the group toward its goals, see that all members are productive, and resolve problems as they arise. Therefore, accountability is critical to your job.

So what can a supervisor do to instill accountability in employees? While it is true that other people’s actions aren’t in your control, and many events aren’t either, your response to these situations is in your control, and sends a message about who you are, and what you expect from others. Therefore instead of focusing on what you cannot control, (making others be accountable), focus on what you can control (You; your attitude, thoughts, actions, and choices) to influence appropriate workplace behaviors.

In other words; in order to instill a sense of accountability in others, supervisors must lead by example—be personally accountable.

Supervisors who lead by personal accountability keep these questions in mind:

Are your words and your actions in alignment?
Once you become responsible for a group of people and their performance, what you say and do has more impact because people pay more attention to it. People look to you to set the example and provide direction. Be mindful of the messages you are sending by your actions as well as your words. What you do says volumes more about what’s important to you and to your organization than all the words, speeches, and mottos plastered on company walls. Make your expectations clear, and then live by them.

Remember, the small things do indeed matter. The small choices and decisions you make 100 times a day add up to determining your workplace environment. What type of environment do you want to work in; Respectful? Happy? Productive? How do your actions promote and encourage the desired outcomes?

How do you spend your time?
What you spend your time on tells people what you value. For example, while you say that quality is important, the amount of time you spend on quality issues is the truest test of your commitment to quality. What are the goals and standards for your department? How much time do you spend attending to them? Invest your time in what you say you value…walk the talk.

What questions do you ask? Pay attention to the questions you ask, they also send messages about your focus and what you value. Do your questions promote a solution-focused, or blame-focused environment? In his book “The Question Behind The Question,” John G. Miller explains how negative, inappropriate questions, (such as “Who dropped the ball?” or “When is that department going to do its job?”) represent and encourage a lack of personal accountability. When we ask better questions, (such as “How can I communicate better?” “What can I do to understand the employee’s frustrations?” “How can I adapt to a changing environment?”) you can solve problems, and eliminate blame and procrastination.

What do you recognize and reward?
Rewards are tangible messages to people about what to pay attention to. If you say you value innovation and risk-taking, for example, you must be willing to reward those who are innovative. Be attentive to how people are made to feel when they take risks. Are people rewarded or punished when they fail? Your actions in such situations greatly determine whether or not future innovation and risk-taking will occur.

Also keep in mind supervisors can at times unknowingly reward employees for performing badly, or inappropriate behavior. Again, performance that is rewarded will increase in nature. This rule applies whether or not the behavior is desirable. This means if you are repeatedly rewarding your employee’s complaining behavior with attention, complaining behavior will increase in frequency.

Leading by personal accountability takes courage. It’s about setting the right example and making a difference in people’s lives. However, when you choose to lead by personal accountability, you empower yourself to be the best you can be, and in so doing, positively influence and empower others.

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

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