top of page

The Art of Accountability

‘The only way we succeed as a group is not simply following directions, but in keeping each other accountable for our actions.’ —A.J. Darkholme

What is accountability?

Accountability is about providing clarity for your team. Accountability is delivering on a commitment, using initiative to follow through and taking responsibility for an outcome. It eliminates ambiguity, creates boundaries and ownership, and provides clarity for moving forward. Accountability involves understanding what is required in terms of quality and timeframes. This should feel empowering because someone is trusting your skills, knowledge and experience. It is a privilege.

Holding team members accountable and setting goals through clear communication is a skill that many leaders find challenging. When we delay having important conversations, problems escalate and accountability isn’t addressed.

A thriving leader must build their confidence and comfort level if they want to be high performing.

There is a balance between your individual accountability and the accountability you must hold of your team. You need to deliver on your own commitments and have ultimate accountability for the team you lead. So, it is your responsibility to ensure that you and your team are clear on why, what, who and when deliverables or tasks need to be met. You will not be successful unless your people are.

Accountability doesn’t mean you can’t be compassionate. You need to balance being assertive and empathetic. Accountability is delivering on a commitment to actions and understanding what may be getting in the way for your team member achieving what is expected. Some of this may be outside of their control, which means you must combine compassion with accountability.

The Art of Accountability

Lack of accountability

Where there is a lack of accountability, there are excuses— individuals deflect from issues and there is a lack of follow-up or follow-through. People feel overwhelmed and stressed and begin judging others to protect themselves.

While it is tempting to look to others when there is a lack of accountability, it is more likely the outcome of another issue. Most of these issues sit with you as the leader, so you first need to diagnose what is driving the lack of accountability so that you can address it. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I set clear expectations about the outcome?

  • Were the expectations realistic?

  • Do they have the skills to perform the task?

  • Have I communicated why this is important?

  • Have I provided support?

Barriers to holding others accountable

Sometimes it just feels easier to do things yourself. It can be less stressful than calling people out when they haven’t followed through on a commitment. In a recent survey, 93% of those surveyed said they were unable to align their work or take accountability for desired results. One-third felt their priorities frequently changed, which created confusion.

When the goal posts continually shift, it is hard to hold your team members accountable as there is confusion about what needs to be delivered. Perhaps you haven’t taken the time to think through roles and responsibilities or have only thought about it and not put pen to paper and clarified this with individuals. Maybe you lack clarity yourself about what needs to be done.

If priorities have changed, you need to clarify the new expectations.

You may fear upsetting someone if you hold them accountable. We want to be liked by our team and being assertive could affect our relationships. But we don’t need to be liked by our people, we need to be respected. We need strong interpersonal relationships if we are to delegate accountability to others. It requires trust and a deep level of communication.


Wanting to be liked

A GM in a business felt uncomfortable being assertive with expectations. The team had worked together for ten years, and they knew each other well—perhaps a bit too well. He didn’t want to be seen as dominant and he wanted to be liked. So when things weren’t done as he had expected, he did the work for the team. This enabled a victim/rescuer dynamic within the team, and it unintentionally told the team it was okay not to meet expectations.


Some leaders don’t want to micromanage their teams, so they are given free rein, which leads to ambiguity and a lack of follow- through. This leads to frustration as the team member hasn’t delivered what was expected. However, if the goals are unclear, the lines of accountability become blurred and this behaviour is reinforced. This can also paint a picture to the rest of the team that underperformance or letting others down is okay.

If any of these barriers apply to you, you are not alone. A recent CEO Benchmarking Report found that 18% of CEOs find holding people accountable their biggest weakness.


bottom of page