One of the realities of being a leader in 2021 and beyond is that direct reports and others that work with you on projects and processes don’t wake up every morning thinking to themselves that today is the day I am going to make myself more accountable.
In a recent virtual Fundamentals of Business Leadership simulation workshop there is a scenario where two of the central characters, David and Ellen are having a conflict over David’s lack of communications on a critical project and his unwillingness to take accountability for his mistakes and delays. Ellen is frustrated that the work David was supposed to have done wasn’t done (she’s the one who must tell the customer) and David is upset that he thinks Ellen is being too hard on him and that he thinks the client is being unreasonable by demanding the project be delivered on time.
The business simulation scenario led to a lively and informative dialogue around how does a leader coach someone else to accept being more accountable. We had a great mix of about 30 experienced and new leaders in breakouts and I am pleased to share the results of the discussion for this blog. The group came up with 5 great tips:
Communicate expectations in advance of the task/assignment/project
The most important part of coaching others to be more accountable is communicating expectations clearly, specifically, and in advance of the work effort be it a task, assignment, or project. If you aren’t clear about the expectations, then there is nobody to blame but yourself if things go off the rails.
Have the person you are coaching to be more accountable document commitments
After clearly communicating the specific expectations, make sure the person you are coaching to be more accountable documents the commitments. This can be in the form of an email, a project plan, and update document or something else that is tangible, easily shared, and memorable for all.
Connect at regular intervals to discuss progress and provide coaching
The next step is making sure you are connecting early and often to check on progress. The recommendation from the group was to schedule the check-ins rather then making them ad-hoc. Regularly scheduled check-ins force all parties to think about and accomplish milestones and tasks quickly and efficiently.
Be very specific and provide examples when the direct report isn’t being accountable and share a vision of what strong accountability looks like in that situation
All of the participants of the program who helped build this list agreed that this recommendation is something new and different. It is related to leadership authenticity where the new generation of leaders can’t shy away from the hard conversations and must specifically create a vision for what good looks like at the same time pointing out what poor and unacceptable behaviors look like.
Give praise, support, or feedback once the work is complete
The final recommendation is the most traditional and still most relevant. When coaching others to be more accountable there must be a good balance between feedback that is meant to improve, and feedback that is meant to praise. Great leaders always think about praise and compliments first and a majority of the leaders in the program felt as though the praise directly increases the willingness to be more accountable.
In summary, these 5 tips are relevant and critical for business success. Instead of being frustrated and wondering why nobody takes accountability anymore, take your own accountability and become an evangelist for helping others to develop the skills needed to want to do it themselves.