Why Leaders Struggle With Accountability

The ‘us vs. them’ mentality in most organizations is almost cliché — and it’s certainly unproductive.

Every single day, leaders complain about employees’ behavior or lack of accountability, but the problem is much more likely due to the leader’s lack of responsibility. 65% of managers aren’t engaged in their work and frequently avoid challenging situations, says Gallup research.

However, the difficult conversations avoided today become the lawsuits the company has to fight later.

In fairness, the deck is often stacked against those in a leadership role. CEB reports that most leaders have 50% more direct reports than they did 10 years ago, and as a result, spend 15% less time with each employee. This isn’t a prescription for a healthy relationship, but if leaders aren’t willing to take responsibility for changing the situation, how can those same leaders blame employees?

Signs of a lack of leadership

In No-Drama Leadership: How Enlightened Leaders Transform Culture in the Workplace, author Marlene Chism offers these warning signs that leaders may be shirking their responsibilities:

There are many reasons leaders struggle with responsibility and accountability. Here are four highlighted by Chism:

1. Not understanding the distinction between responsibility and accountability.

Failing to understand the distinction between being responsible and being accountable is a chief reason leaders struggle. Responsibility comes from the heart and accountability from the head. You accept responsibility, but accountability can feel forced on you – being held accountable suggests punishment and blame.

2. Not having appropriate support or resources

When leaders have responsibility for a job and are measured on their effectiveness, they may avoid accountability if they’re not confident they can actually accomplish the job. Often their resistance is born from the fact that they don’t have the proper support or resources to succeed.

3. They have a skills gap

Employees have witnessed leaders at all levels in their organizations who didn’t respond to communications, dropped balls, and made promises that weren’t fulfilled unless they were reminded again and again. These patterns indicate a potential problem with accountability due to not having the right skill set to be effective.

4. They lack discipline

Sometimes leaders are given too much power, and because no one seems to be holding them accountable, they lose awareness about their own lack of discipline, which cascades the bad example deeper into the company.

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The more these problems are tolerated by senior leadership, the more profoundly they can negatively impact company culture, and the more likely the problems will spread.

Its human nature to want to blame others for short-comings, but blaming isn’t a luxury leaders can afford. As long as the problem is someone else’s, there’s no opportunity for personal development or growth. If employees aren’t conducting themselves appropriately, then leaders need to take action to correct the problem, rather than simply pointing it out.

A leader with a more enlightened approach asks, “What can this employee problem teach me about my leadership weaknesses?” Companies that consciously decide to develop and support responsibility at all levels in the company have much more success with creating a healthy culture of accountability.

A version of this appeared previously on OCTanner.com.