by Mary Juetten, Contributor,
Part of leadership is holding others to account when the occasion arises. It’s not the most pleasant part, by any means; not many people particularly enjoy having to be the “bad guy” or the “wet blanket”, and fewer still have much of an appetite for confrontation and uncomfortable conversations. But the mantle of leadership comes with its share of difficult chores, and delivering the occasional harsh rebuke or reprimand when work remains unfinished or targets unmet is what is asked of those who accept the role.
As a leader, your first responsibility is to those reporting to you, and for those same individuals as well. Your role can feel like that of a parent at times: to shepherd and protect in many instances, to punish and instruct as needed for the long-term betterment of both the person and the team. But of course you’re not a parent, and those in your employ aren’t children; there is work that needs to be done, and it’s your job to see to it that it gets done.
Handing out responsibilities might be a matter of choice and consideration, or it might come tailor-made with the job and title a person steps into. Regardless of how they’ve come by it, each person should understand the importance of the responsibility they’ve been given, and the necessity of living up to the standard that is required of the trust that comes with it. They may be working alone, but there are others relying on them to do their job well and in a timely fashion, in ways big and small. In failing to achieve what is expected of them, they are creating an issue and a problem that redounds to everyone around them dependent on a full team effort.
Accountability doesn’t begin where responsibility ends, nor does it replace the concept. The terms are often used interchangeably, even though the notions are separate entirely. Where we can be said to be “holding someone responsible” we are looking to pin ultimate responsibility so that we might invoke accountability. Accountability is the backbone of responsibility; without it, there would be less weight behind the instructions and tasks you set forth. Do nothing when responsibilities aren’t met and you look weak and feckless, and lose the respect of those working for you; hold the wrong people to account and you look capricious, and lose the respect of those working for you.
For accountability to work, it has to be clearly established who is to be held accountable for what tasks and groups, so that they know what is expected, and what to expect should they fall short. There is a reticence on the part of any leader to hold the stick, much preferring to offer the carrot; they want to be liked, as we all do, particularly by those working for them. But there is being liked, and being respected; your job is made more difficult without the former, but you are lost without the latter. And despite misconceptions, people want boundaries and guidelines and potential discipline defined so they can get on with their work without any ambiguity hanging over their head.
Responsibility and accountability aren’t just concepts for you to enact with your team. In order for your group to work effectively and cohesively, you have to demonstrate that you hold yourself to those same principles should you fall short. There are few things so galling as hypocrisy, and nothing will diminish morale and the respect of your team so much as you skirting the same standards you put in place. Employees understand that there are privileges afforded leadership positions, particularly as a founder or CEO, but it’s impossible for them to accept your proselytizing company values if they don’t appear to apply to the entire company. While no one expects you to self-flagellate in the break room, an acknowledgement of your own missteps goes a long way to gaining the buy-in and respect of your team.
Again, none of this is a particularly pleasant part of the job. With the portioning out of responsibility is implicit the potential of repercussion, and we’d all sooner focus on the best possible outcome. But any team requires everyone to pull their weight to achieve overall success, and assigning responsibility and demanding accountability is ultimately serving the interests of your team and your company as a whole. #onwards.