What Executives Really Need to Know About Leadership Accountability

May 21, 2021 2 min read
What Executives Really Need to Know About Leadership Accountability

What does it mean to be accountable? Well, let’s keep things simple and start with the definition of accountability.

adjective required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible

So, it should be clear that accountability is taking responsibility to do something and being certain your actions achieve the expected result.

Or, to put it another way, leadership accountability is taking practical steps to make your future more probable.

Leadership Is About Solving Problems

Let me explain…

In the end, whatever we do comes down to one thing. Solving problems.

There is no accountability today… no willingness to focus on big ideas. – Michael Bloomberg

They may be simple problems or intractable problems. Responding to some unwelcome situation. Or, a change in circumstance that justifies doing something different.

But this is where leadership accountability often falls short.

We don’t deal with problems the right way because we don’t adequately define them.

The Good

There are five steps to a good problem definition. They are:

It’s shared with colleagues

A problem shared is a problem halved. Leaders don’t have all the answers. So, write up the problem, not the solution, and share it with the team.

It describes the difference between the current state and some desired future state

Know what you are trying to achieve. And, be sure everyone else understands your goal.

Its achievement is measurable at some agreed time

Here’s the crux of the problem. If you solve a problem, how do you know it is solved? So, make sure what you do is measurable, and check you’re on target at some mutually agreed time.

Everyone involved is clear about what needs to be done

Be clear about roles and responsibilities. Remove ambiguity. Always use clear, simple language.

It doesn’t dictate a particular course of action

Your objective is to lead others towards solving the problem. Therefore, do not place too many constraints on the team. If you do, they cannot innovate and are less likely to find the right solution.

I want people around me who call me out and hold me accountable. – Hunter Parrish

A good problem definition looks like this:

  • All desktop computers will be upgraded to Windows 11 by 31 December 2022.

Why is this a good problem definition? Because it is specific, measurable, and we know how to assess success.

The Bad

Bad leaders ignore these rules…

They ignore them because they're held to account.

A bad problem definitions look like this:

  • We need to cut costs by 25% and increase productivity two-fold.

Why? Because it is two problems, not one. What’s more, it may not be possible to cut costs and increase productivity this way. If cost and productivity are related, chances we are constrained to such a point that a solution may not exist.

Hold everybody accountable? Ridiculous! – W. Edwards Deming

The Ugly

Ugly leaders go out of their way to obfuscate their decisions. They knowingly avoid accountability.

  • We want the best website in the industry.

Are you accountable for your decisions? Do you hide behind ambiguity and obscurity, or take ownership of the problem? You are welcome to tell us about your experiences in the comments.

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