Accountability is sometimes something that many leaders in organizations believe they are and their employees aren’t. No matter what they do, they can’t get their employees to behave or perform to their often unstated expectations. Our clients often say they told their employees they need to be more accountable without defining what this even means. As a result, leaders everywhere are on a quest, almost like a Holy Grail search, to figure out how to make their employees more accountable.

But what if leaders looked at accountability differently? What if we saw it as a journey, a way to make our employees feel more connected, motivated, and empowered? And that leaders have the power to engage employees by developing followership through a set of accountability actions. They just don’t know how to use the power of accountability themselves.

Accountability is a Journey, Not a Destination

Many employees equate accountability with an unsparing evaluation of their errors. In such environments, a single mistake can be akin to a scarlet letter, marking them negatively. This perspective is not only myopic but also counterproductive.

Consider Anna, a seasoned sales executive who consistently met her targets for consecutive quarters. However, she missed her target in one challenging quarter, influenced by external market volatilities. Instead of addressing the reasons and strategizing for the future, her manager, adhering to the old-school thought, reprimanded her. The focus was solely on the missed target and not on Anna’s proven track record or the external factors at play.

Mistakes are Part of the Process

Imagine working in a place where every error means a red mark against you. Stressful, right? This is what it feels like when we believe accountability is an event that happens when employees fail to perform. But when we see accountability as a journey, mistakes become lessons, not failures. When accountability is a process, it’s like being handed the keys to the car. We make choices, take risks, and bring new ideas to life. The work feels more meaningful when you’re in the driver’s seat. It’s no longer about just ticking boxes but creating real change.

Take the case of Michael, a junior developer in a tech firm. In one of his projects, he introduced a code that later resulted in a minor bug. Instead of reprimanding him, his manager used this as a teachable moment, ensuring Michael understood his oversight and learned from it. This approach improved Michael’s skills and enhanced his commitment to the team and the organization.

When leaders start viewing accountability as a journey, every error transforms into an opportunity—a chance to learn, grow, and innovate. Such a perspective shifts the focus from mere task completion to holistic development and innovation.

Regular Feedback Helps Employees Improve

With this new mindset, feedback isn’t something you get once a year in a dreaded review. It’s continuous, like updates from a friend. Knowing where I stand and getting pointers along the way? That’s empowering. And feeling valued? That’s priceless. This approach isn’t just about finding what’s wrong. It’s about celebrating what’s right. Those little wins? They matter. And knowing our efforts are seen and appreciated? It pushes us to climb even higher mountains.

As a content strategist, Sophia benefited immensely from her organization’s continuous feedback model. Weekly discussions with her manager provided clarity, enabling her to align her strategies more harmoniously with the company’s objectives. These sessions, far from being judgmental, were platforms of learning, adjustment, and mutual growth.

Shifting our view of accountability from an event to a journey can make workplaces feel more like a community. It’s a place where we’re motivated, valued, and empowered to be our best. This approach creates psychological safety and a place of belonging where people don’t just survive their working experience; they thrive. Embracing accountability as a process to engage, develop followership, and empower employees instead of looking at ways of making employees accountable has the potential to transform your organization.


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