Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
August 2012   |   By Dan Gaynor

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The Heart of Accountability

For this month, once again, I'm dipping into the archives to revisit an article from November of 2007 that has become one of my favourites.

By far the thing I hear more about than anything else these days is accountability - many leaders have a near obsession with it and in a world where excuse making has become the norm, most leaders want more of it. This has spawned an enthusiasm for formal written accountability agreements, but written agreements do not improve accountability because like so much of leadership it is a product of relationships and not contracts.

Much of leadership is reciprocal: followers do what they do based on what their leaders are doing. As I continue to emphasize, teams are always a reflection of leadership and accountability falls squarely into this category. When leaders care about followers; followers will care about the leader, and this is the heart of the accountability relationship.

Let me illustrate with a tale of two leaders. The first had a near obsession with accountability. He read books about it and had employees write lengthy accountability agreements. He set impossible targets under impossible circumstances and cared not at all about the hardship they entailed. Because he worked 80-hour weeks he thought everyone else should as well. When their best efforts came up short he regularly lost his temper, banging his fist on the table and angrily reprimanding and belittling employees. He missed the reality that his behaviour was the biggest part of the problem.

The second leader, a man I worked for was one of the best leaders I have known. I met him early in my career and from the onset of our relationship it became clear that he had an interest in me and wanted to help me succeed. He clearly cared about everyone who worked for him. He was fair and caring but he was also tough and demanding. He never settled for anything less than my best. He never asked the impossible.

My bet is that you've worked for each of these bosses. They had different names and places but one was fair minded and caring and the other was completely unreasonable and short tempered. Take just a minute and think about the good boss. Recall who he or she was and they way you felt about working for this person. If you felt anything like I did, you'd have done whatever you could not to disappoint this boss. Isn't that really the heart of accountability – employees who do what they can not to disappoint the man or woman they work for? This kind of accountability doesn't require faddish written agreements - it evolves naturally with genuinely caring leaders who make reasonable demands.

Now it is also true that at times caring leaders – those who value a more collegial environment – can tip over the line and allow people to forget that performance matters. I've made this mistake and had to redraw the lines once or twice. But just as often I see unreasonable leaders treat people poorly and then complain about accountability. These leaders need to look first in the mirror.

This brings us back to the upside of reciprocity: When a leader genuinely cares, followers care about the leader; they will do whatever they can not to disappoint leaders like this. This is accountability that is powerful and lasting.

Discussion questions:

  1. How responsive and accountable is your team? Do they come to work each day wanting not to disappoint you?
  2. How well do you respond to pressure and how does it affect your relationships with employees?
  3. Have you ever slipped over the line and let employees take advantage of a collegial environment? What did you do to correct the situation?
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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
August 2012   |   By Dan Gaynor


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The Pain Problem, October 2016

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Mentoring in the Moment, January 2016

Sacrificial Leadership, December 2015

5 Tactics For Better Meetings, November 2015

Leader as Follower, October 2015

Dynamic Balance, September 2015

Fearless Humility, August 2015

Fear and Accountability, July 2015

Building a Feedback Culture, June 2015

Fostering Accountability, May 2015

Confront or Avoid?, Apr. 2015

The Heart of Accountability, Mar. 2015

Powerful Ambition, Feb. 2015

Inspiring Possibilities, Jan. 2015

Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

Disagree Well, Nov. 2014

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