Accountability: A Leader's Best Friend - by Dave Jochum In Business Solutions

Dave Jochum

Published: April 6, 2015, 12:32 p.m.
Updated: April 6, 2015, 12:32 p.m.

What are some important traits of a best friend?

Loyalty – You want to know that this person will stand by you no matter what.

Trust – You’ve got to be able to trust one another as you get to know each other better.

Likability – Obviously they need to be someone you like and who likes you as well.

There is one trait that we expect from the person who is among our very best friends:

Accountability – This may not be one that would pop up immediately in your mind, but think about it. A friend – a very good friend – is someone who can tell you that you have something in your teeth and they know you won’t be mad at them and you know they are only saying it because they care. A friend can challenge you when you express a thought that is out of character for you. They can tell you that you need to fix your hair or straighten your dress so your slip doesn’t show (this would be two friends who are female, cause I ain’t wearin’ no dress!).

Now, how does the accountability you experience with a best friend translate into your everyday leadership life? Good question.

A leader who is not willing to allow himself or herself some amount of natural accountability, will not lead for long and even if they do lead for a stretch of time, that leadership will not be all that it can and should be.

Allowing accountability is simply the leader being willing to listen to and receive feedback. But getting valuable feedback from the team is not always a simple task. Some members of the team have been in situations where the leader "punished” those who gave feedback that the leader didn’t like. The punishment can take on different forms. Maybe a harsh and demanding assignment is leveled on the person who gave the feedback or even on the whole team. The leader may laugh out loud at the feedback, thereby relegating it to silliness and humiliating the commentator.

To counter this, the leader will need to create, foster, and maintain a culture of openness. This means that all feedback is seen as valuable from trusted team members. It also means that the leader cannot be one who wears his feelings on his sleeves and gets easily offended.

Another important element in creating this "accountability culture” is that you, as the leader, must be willing to request feedback. When something goes in a direction that you don’t like or didn’t expect, instead of handing down an edict of "how it’s going to be because I’m the boss,” maybe you should have an open and honest discussion with the team where they can express their opinions and give important information that you may not have known or considered.

Let me be clear: failure to do this will ultimately result in your failure as a leader. You will continue to think you are leading people who, in reality, are not following you.

A book I read recently gives some important points on this issue. The book is, Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership,
by Tim Irwin. I highly recommend the book to leaders in any sector. In the book, Tim writes about habits that help a leader stay on track. One of these is The Habit of Openness. He says,

"Regardless of where we might be in the organizational hierarchy, we need to develop openness to feedback. It’s especially important to be open to feedback that’s contradictory to how we might perceive ourselves. Our willingness to hear feedback when it suggests we’re off course remains critical to making occasional mid-course corrections in order to arrive at our intended destinations.”

A great story of a leader not being open to accountability is one with which most of us are familiar. Anakin Skywalker was a promising Jedi apprentice. He had a most excellent mentor in Obi Wan Kenobi. But young Skywalker wasn’t open to constructive feedback. He didn’t want anyone holding him accountable. His mentor, as well as others on the Jedi council, tried to help him understand that he was not ready to be a Jedi master. His immaturity, impulsiveness, and general disregard for the Jedi way (except when it suited him), were all "red flags.” He was unwilling to learn what he needed to learn, to heed the advice of trusted mentors, and to remain open to feedback. Instead he rejected accountability and became engulfed in his own anger. In the end, he lost everything he tried so desperately to cling to and became the epitome of evil – Darth Vadar.

Another important quote from Mr. Irwin’s book is this,

"Individuals who want to grow and develop learn to welcome feedback from others, particularly someone they respect.”

Leaders are learners. Leaders are people who want to grow daily and get better at what they do. Accountability is a growth accelerator. As you allow yourself to be open to feedback, as you give your team permission to challenge you on the hard stuff, you will grow exponentially in your leadership skills and in your influence with your team members.

Don’t be afraid of accountability. It can be your best friend.