A regular complaint I hear from business leaders is, “My team isn’t hitting their numbers, they’re just not accountable”. Occasionally it’s true but more often, I find the reason behind the lack of accountability is a product of the leadership behavior.
Many leaders’ tend not to invest the necessary time to ensure clarity when task setting. Others find it impossible not to indulge in problem-solving which interferes with accountability. The third trait I observe is a lack of candour where leaders let poor results occur without challenge due to conflict avoidance which creates a low-performance culture.
The typical reaction to the problem is one of two things; berating the team for not being accountable which further demotivates, frustrates, and destroys confidence, or, taking back ownership of the task which puts more pressure on the leader, deflates and removes the opportunity for the team to learn. Neither of these actions is likely to result in a sustainable improvement in performance.
If you want to establish high levels of accountability and performance in your team you have to adopt a leadership mindset. Follow these five steps to become a next-level leader.
Step 1: Start with honest self-awareness
You need to accept your contribution to the problem and consider how your actions, inactions, attitude, and behaviours are getting in the way.
- Have you set a clear vision for the goal and been specific about your expectations and requirements?
- Are you creating and respecting the space for the team to own the process? Or are you still problem-solving & micro-managing?
- Have you taken the time to ask exactly what support they require from you? (What, when, how, & when?)
- Have you communicated and demonstrated your belief in the team?
- Have you asked them to play back to you their plan and given them all the information and support they require to succeed?
If being 100% honest with yourself, you’re not consistently doing all the above, then you’re not creating a high-performance environment that will allow your team to perform at their best. You need to put the work in to start changing your behaviours.
Step 2: Establish the goal and create the space for ownership
Approach the conversation with belief, curiosity, and a commitment to support their success. Establish a dedicated time to set out the business challenge, discuss your expectations and listen to their plans for success
Make it clear that they are owning the task and that you are there to listen, support, and guide them. Allowing them figure out the process encourages the team to accept ownership and accountability. It demonstrates your belief in them and creates a safe collaborative environment. It also facilitates their learning and development leading to lasting competence in the task.
Step 3: Use Active Listening and Understanding
Support the team by adopting a coaching style asking open-ended questions and actively listening to your team member’s perspectives. This helps expand their thinking whilst retaining ownership rather than deferring to your ideas or solution. Avoid judgmental language or critical feedback. Offer ideas and insights rather than instructions. Assume positive intent and seek to understand the underlying issues that may be impacting their performance. This empathetic approach helps identify the root causes of their challenges and paves the way for finding effective solutions.
Step 4: Establish Clarity and Mutual Agreement
Once the team has designed the plan for success, invite them to summarise it articulating the expected results so you can be sure there is clarity and alignment. If there’s any gap between their understanding and your expectations now’s the time to surface and resolve it.
Ask them how they will measure progress, and how you will see that they are on track. Challenge them to get really specific about the milestones, metrics, and reporting, investing time here will mean you don’t waste time chasing for updates later. It also sets them up for success and encourages them to own both the process and the outcomes. Ask them to document the agreed-upon plan so there’s transparency and a reference for future discussions.
Step 5: Set Up for Success and Track Progress
Take the opportunity to check their level of confidence and if it’s not high invite them to explore what’s missing. Ask them what they need from you. Again get specific, if it’s feedback, ask how and when do they want it.
Stay close to the project without interfering. Commit time to review the reports and attending the progress meetings. Invite the team to present the updates and share how the project is going from their perspective. Challenge the results with curiosity rather than criticism and avoid stepping in to problem solve. Remember, you want them to own the project and remain accountable for the results so leave them the space to figure out what’s wrong and how to fix it. Of course, you’re there to offer support and advice.
Instead of fixating on accountability as a standalone demand, embrace a leadership mindset that prioritizes self-awareness, empathy, and clear communication. By following these five steps, you can foster a culture of accountability within your team, driving better results, and reducing frustration. Become a next-level leader by nurturing productive relationships and inspiring impactful change.
If you’re looking to sharpen your leadership skills and take your team’s performance to the next level, contact me for leadership coaching. Together, we can help your team unlock its full potential.