Accountability is NOT a Bad Word


What comes to mind when you hear the word “accountability?”

For most people in our culture today, the word immediately brings to mind some form of punitive action. Too often, accountability shows up when something goes wrong and people are looking to lay blame. The finger pointing begins. “Sales are down this quarter. Someone is going to be held accountable!”

In the book, Winning with Accountability, Henry J. Evans says,

“Accountability should not be defined as a punitive response to something going wrong. Accountability means preventing something from going wrong.”

Achieving our organization’s mission and vision begins with accountability.

  • Mission-focused organizations front-load accountability into all of their strategies.
  • Leaders must establish a culture of accountability where it will be anticipated and expected.
  • Accountability is about achieving our goals and not fear or stress.

Hypocrisy exists in the space between language and action.

What happens when an organization or a leader says one thing, but their actions say something else? Employees, customers, vendors, suppliers, and everyone else will soon stop trusting them and assume their words are of little value. Have you heard or thought any of these types of quotes about a company?

  • “My company says they value new ideas, but we keep doing things the old way.”
  • “The sign in the window indicated the business was accredited by the Better Business Bureau, but I feel like I was ripped off.”
  • “The company leaders say they value diversity, but everyone in charge looks alike.”

In accountable cultures everyone holds each other accountable for their commitments in a positive and productive manner.

Accountability is born with two or more people know about a commitment.

The key first step for accountability is clearly communicating our expectations to those who are responsible. As leaders, this would include not just those who report directly to us, but also those who we may be influencing throughout our leadership circle. One tool which can help ensure you have clearly communicated your expectations to others is a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

Specific – Have I described and provided a visual of the behaviors and deadlines required for this task? Do they know what “success” will look like? Do they understand the “why” we are doing this? ***This is by far the most important element of any S.M.A.R.T. goal.

Measurable – Can my request be measured? Does it have a clearly defined completion point? When it’s all said and done, can you actually measure if the goal was achieved?

Actionable – Will this drive people to actually “do” something or maybe change a behavior?

Results-Oriented – Will this request move us closer to our vision? We don’t need more tasks that just create work . . . we need to see tangible results.

Time-Based – Will those who are involved clearly see and hear completion dates and/or clear milestone dates? Can we write this request on a calendar and break it down into smaller steps?

While positive accountability may not be easy, it can be SIMPLE.

  • Set Expectations – never assume, be clear and focused. SMART goals are a great tool.
  • Invite Commitment – Just because someone knows what to do, doesn’t mean they will do it. Explain how the goal will benefit them and the organization. Connect what they want to what the company needs to achieve.
  • Measure Progress – Reward completion . . . but recognize steps along the way. Periodically let people know how they are doing. Ask what they need—what is getting in the way? Remove obstacles. Good goals are always measurable.
  • Provide Feedback – Honestly share how you feel. Be clear, don’t make them guess. Feedback is a gift, be sincere. Intent is more important than technique.
  • Link to Consequences – What will happen if they are successful? What will happen if they are not? Not about punishments, focus on the mission and vision.
  • Evaluate Effectiveness – Focus on the results, not the effort. What worked and what did not? What should have been done? What did they learn? Be systematic and consistent.

Take a look at your own organization and especially your personal leadership style. How would you describe the current accountability culture? Positive or punitive? No matter where you are today, it is never too late to take steps toward a more positive accountability culture. But it will not happen by accident or by wishing. Make some plans now to take one small step in the direction of positive accountability. Your team and your whole organization will be benefit from your efforts.

Here are a few suggested resources:

  • Winning with Accountability by Henry J. Evans
  • Time Management for the Christian Leader by Ken Willard
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • Leadership 101: What Every Leader Need to Know by John C. Maxwell
  • Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen R. Covey

Contact me if you are interested in hosting a Leadership seminar on accountability, setting SMART goals, or several other leadership topics.

Check out my church leadership online webinars at:



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