Lead by Example: The Importance of Accountability

Bryan Zaslow

Jun 1, 2021


Accountability. It may not sound like the most glamorous of business concepts. But in my experience, accountability is one of those few make-or-break traits that defines true good leadership.

Simply put, a workplace without accountability cannot succeed. It needs to be instilled in the company’s culture and values. Why? Think of it as one of an organization’s foundational building blocks for success. Accountability drives performance and helps teams achieve common goals and realize the company’s mission. It’s also critical in identifying those who may need more guidance or support. As a result, employees are more involved and committed, and even express higher satisfaction with their work.  

In the past year, as our teams have mostly been working remotely, accountability has been more of a challenge. With the vast majority of companies agreeing that a hybrid workforce will become the new normal, those challenges won’t go away any time soon. The good news is that the following principles will help you manage your team no matter where they are working.

It Starts at the Top

As a leader, your decisions have impact. You are responsible for the successes and failures of your company. No matter the size of your organization, your team looks to you for inspiration and direction. When leadership holds itself personally accountable for its actions, that trickles down through the workplace. Accountability builds trust and inspires others to follow.

At its core, accountability means following through on your word — accomplishing the tasks that you agreed on, meeting your deadlines, and hitting your targets. Employees need, and deserve, to feel that they can trust their leadership to mean what they say and stay true to their promises.

If you are not reliable and responsible for your actions, what incentive do they have to be?

Accountability Is Teamwork

You can only achieve shared company goals by working together, and to do that successfully each team member must rely on their coworkers fulfilling their individual responsibilities. It’s accountability that makes effective teamwork possible.

What about when our employees aren’t always in the same office? Here at JBC, working from home all these months has proven what a great staff we’ve put together. We give our teams specific and manageable goals, then step back and allow them to decide how to get there. They each help their colleagues succeed, which is gratifying to see.  

When a company succeeds, it’s founders or chief executives get the credit. And they deserve it. That’s accountability too. When most people think of accountability, it calls to mind the consequences of failing to meet expectations. But leaders also need to provide accountability for successes — and not just at the top, but throughout the organization. Team members deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their accomplishments. This positive accountability can help motivate employees and reinforce team spirit.

No Excuses

There is no tougher environment for a company’s success than one with a culture of finger-pointing. When employees are given permission to place the blame for failure on circumstances, or worse, on others, morale is the first thing to suffer, and team members find themselves feeling isolated or turning on each other. Not only does this make a lousy place to work, it all but guarantees that continued failure becomes the norm. 

Occasionally falling short of expectations is unavoidable, and there are many factors that can get in the way. Some of those will be under your control; others won’t be. Here at JBC, we believe and preach that we do not make mistakes, we simply have opportunities to learn. One of the hallmarks of accountability in leadership is eliminating the difference between intention and results by setting the right environment for teams to succeed.

The surest way to encourage accountability is to set clear expectations, then regularly measure progress toward those goals — at agreed-upon checkpoints or milestones for projects, or during regularly occurring performance reviews — so both sides can be assured that those expectations are being met. This is even more important when many members of your team are working remotely.

Building Trust

At JBC, we understand the importance of accountability. We nurture it as a core value among our team members. To help the companies we work with succeed, we always seek out candidates who demonstrate accountability and hold themselves to a high standard of personal responsibility. Candidates who have earned the trust of their coworkers can meet expectations and become valued additions to our clients’ teams.  

As a leader, you expect trust from the companies you do business with and the people you work with. And they in turn expect the same from you. Start with yourself. Practicing personal accountability first provides the example that accountability works, so others can follow your lead.