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8 Personal Accountability Habits of a Great Leader

Great leaders are accountable to their team and their outcomes

Whether or not you carry the title of leader or manager in your job, you have the opportunity to be a great leader. Leadership is not something that is bestowed upon a person — although a person’s title and credentials can influence how much power a person has in a specific situation. True leadership is grown from within. A person can be the leader of their business team but not possess the qualities or habits that make a great leader. Likewise, someone with no title at all can be a leader in their community or for their family.

Whether you have the title or not, you have the option to be a great leader. Below are eight accountability habits that make any person into a great leader.

Habit 1: Be accountable to outcomes rather than tasks.

Something that gets a lot of leaders into trouble is their attachment to tasks and the plan at the expense of their desired outcomes. It can be tempting, once we create a plan, to want to stick to it completely without taking moments along the way to assess whether or not it’s working to get the team where they want to go. After all, the plan is safe. It’s known. All you have to do is follow it. But just because it feels productive doesn’t mean it is productive, and this way of accomplishing goals is actually impractical, leading to unnecessary busywork, chaotic recovery and goals that seem constantly out of reach.

Prioritizing outcomes rather than the plan and tasks to get there can be scary at first. It means more time in the unknown. But it will give you far more bang for your buck. When you prioritize your outcomes, you have a north star, and you can measure everything you do against that. It’s also a much more forgiving way to go about reaching your goals. If a member of the team doesn’t get something right or makes a mistake, you have the flexibility to adjust from where you are currently — no need for blame, punishment or long-lasting frustration. If the plan takes a detour, who cares? Just get right back on the task of reaching those outcomes with the new information you’ve gathered. Adjustment is part of the process, and the sooner a leader can learn that, the sooner they’ll get the results they’re looking for.

Habit 2: Don’t take breakdowns personally.

Breakdowns happen. You’re human! And so is your team. When something doesn’t go as planned, consider it a fabulous learning opportunity. Too often, leaders want things to go just perfectly because they think a breakdown reflects badly on them. But when leaders can learn not to take breakdowns so personally, they can be present enough to quickly make an adjustment and get back on track.

To mitigate breakdowns, have your team brainstorm obstacles ahead of time and create proactive recovery plans. Let them know that they’re all mutually responsible for reaching the team’s desired outcomes, so they should all be prepared to lend a hand on the occasion that something goes wrong on the way to accomplishing their goals. Brainstorming, problem-solving and creating solutions together is a great way to develop shared ownership among the team, taking the unnecessary pressure off the leader to be perfect.

Habit 3: Own up to and learn from your mistakes.

All great business leaders make mistakes — it’s how we learn! If you don’t mess up now and again, you can be sure you’re playing too safe. A great leader reaches to new heights and is willing to step outside their comfort zone into the unknown. The important thing isn’t to always be perfect but to own up to and learn from your mistakes.

Keeping mishaps a secret, especially when they affect others, is a surefire way to snowball the negative effects of your mistake. Owning up to and acknowledging your mistakes gives your team a chance to support you in making it right. It also lets your team members know that they aren’t held to an unrealistic level of perfectionism, and solving the team’s problems together creates deep and lasting trust among team members, allowing the team to reach more distant goals more easily than if they were always having to watch their back and defend themselves.

The most important thing about life, including business, is the learning. Lean into it and set a great example for your team to do the same.

Learn how accountability increases your value and income as an employee.

Habit 4: Listen well and listen often.

We all have it in us to let power go to our heads, but this is a trap that should be avoided at all costs. Being a leader does not mean being the best, being the smartest or being the dictator in charge! Being a good business leader requires a great deal of listening — both to other leaders as well as to direct reports on the team.

The people around you are your treasure. They provide diverse insights, ideas and experiences that can make your company stronger. When a leader tries to be the hero, the work will collapse in on itself. One strong perspective is simply not strong enough to maintain a well-functioning business team in such a diverse and creative world. Listening to others will give you ideas and help you create connections you would never be able to make otherwise.

Habit 5: Keep your agreements.

Keeping agreements is a personal accountability habit that is often misunderstood. We can get so focused on our plans of action or the tasks we agree to that we commit to them above all else, even if they’re not getting us where we want to go. While it’s important as a general rule to keep agreements of any kind including tasks and plans, what we’re talking about in this habit is actually keeping our agreements as they relate to our desired outcomes and the desired outcomes of our team.

The minutiae of how we achieve our goals are important and necessary, and especially when someone else is depending on us to do something we’ve committed to, it’s imperative that we keep our agreements. However, always remember to use your desired outcomes as your guiding light, and if you must break a task or coordination agreement, it’s important to communicate transparently with those who will be affected.

Habit 6: Build a culture of communal problem-solving. 

Personal accountability doesn’t mean that all the hard work falls on your shoulders. The great thing about working in a team is that having more people creates a lighter load for everyone. Leaders who build a culture of communal problem-solving foster an environment in which everyone can be accountable more easily. Problem-solving is an excellent way to learn about each person on the team, including their responsibilities and constraints, and to utilize the incredible diversity of experience, knowledge and creativity that each person brings to the team. 

When teams problem-solve together, they can adapt to change more quickly, discover and implement more creative solutions and create trust within the team that allows for more risk-taking with fewer implementation breakdowns.

Habit 7: Trust your team.

Before I began team-building with business corporations, I taught math to high school kids. Math is one of those subjects that people feel either good at or bad at. What I found was that those kids who thought they were bad at math weren’t failing because they couldn’t do it; they were failing because they didn’t trust themselves to be able to do it. Their mindset was a key component in their capability. But I knew this, and as their teacher, I trusted that they were capable of doing math and so, in the end, they were!

We often put the onus of trust on the people being trusted. In other words, we require trustworthiness to come before trust. While this can feel like the safe, sane and comfortable route, it’s actually putting the cart before the horse.

The degree to which someone trusts another person is sometimes dependent on the trustworthiness of that other person, but more often it’s a reflection of a person’s own mind and thought patterns. A leader who micromanages their direct reports, for example, has low trust in their team. But is that low trust justified? Oftentimes, not.

Leaders who can trust their team foster a culture of personal accountability among everyone because it gives the space for each team member to carry their own weight, ask for help when needed and become personally accountable for their outcomes and role in achieving those outcomes. As leaders, we have to allow our team to demonstrate trustworthiness by offering them our trust and support to begin with.

Habit 8: Quit the blame game altogether.

Blaming others when things go wrong is one of our minds’ favorite ways to get out of a sticky situation. While it can feel good personally to push the blame onto someone else and relieve ourselves of responsibility, it’s not a good tactic if we’re trying to lead a team or achieve breakthrough business results.

Part of being personally accountable is taking ownership for mistakes and communicating in a clear and timely manner to those who are affected. But part of being personally accountable is also to take ownership for fixing a problem that you didn’t even create! Even if a bad situation is not your fault at all, and even if you had nothing to do with it, blaming whoever is responsible or appears responsible is completely unhelpful.

Rather than creating a culture of blame, create a culture of problem-solving and support. The truth is, it’s no one person’s responsibility to achieve great results for the team. Achieving desired outcomes is the team’s responsibility as a whole, and assigning blame when things go wrong only creates a culture of punitive accountability, fear and hiding.

Summary

Being personally accountable as a leader isn’t just about yourself; it’s about creating a culture of personal accountability among your team by setting an example and tone that creates safety and effective teamwork.


This article was first published as a two-part Forbes Coaches Council Post. View Part 2 Here.

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