Leadership

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The 3rd “Leadership” Day of Christmas – The Gift of Accountability

Accountability is a desired trait for any ministry or business.  If you’re running a business or any ministry, expect your staff, team, volunteers, members, boards, and employees, to desire it.  Why is accountability such an important leadership principle?

Here are four fundamental reasons Why Accountability Is Important.

Accountability builds trust

Perhaps the most important result of accountability is trust, which is essential in any relationship.  Being accountable for something means you’re willing to commit and be responsible for your actions. It promotes trust between you and the people around you. In a contract or covenant, you’re entrusted to protect something.  When you allow yourself to be accountable to this trust, you’re telling people that you will admit it and make amends when it is broken.  In effect, you’re emphasizing how important and committed you are to what you pledged to protect.

Accountability improves performance

Accountability eliminates your time and effort on distracting activities and other unproductive behavior. Research shows that some people tend to engage in ineffective behavior. Without accountability, you may only catch these behaviors when mistakes and errors have already been made and your ministry or business has already suffered losses. By building a culture of accountability at the onset, you rid your ministry or business of ineffective behavior, put the right people on the right jobs, and send the message that you’re serious about excellent work.

Accountability promotes ownership

When you make people accountable for their actions, you teach them to value their work.  Through positive feedback and corrective actions, they learn that their behavior and actions impact the team. They’re not just floating members without clear roles – they’re essential to your ministry or business. When people know they’re valued and vital, they’re more driven to work hard. They learn to have a sense of ownership in what they do.

Accountability inspires confidence

Accountability can increase team members’ skills and confidence when done right. Don’t mistake accountability for controlling behavior. The key is to provide the proper support – give constructive feedback, improve on your members’ suggestions, give them the freedom to decide, and challenge them to think of better solutions as a team.  When people know you’re listening and concerned about their performance, they’re more likely to do their best.

For these reasons, you must build a culture of accountability.  Remember that accountability is creating a culture of trust and not fear.  Your goal is not to punish and look for errors and mistakes. Instead, you seek to open up multiple feedback mechanisms, fill in gaps, improve on solutions, reward productive behavior, and remove unproductive ones. As a leader, you should hold yourself to the highest level of accountability.

Some ministries or businesses do away with accountability because they think people will feel under constant surveillance. However, when done with the right motivations and the corresponding appropriate actions, accountability will give people more freedom to be their best. It also gives you more opportunities to affirm your staff when they are doing well.

Now that we have learned the importance of accountability, it would serve us well if we knew what accountability is and where it begins.

Definition of Accountability

The word “accountable” stems from the Latin word accomptare (to account), a prefixed form of computare (to calculate), which in turn derived from putare (to reckon). The concept of account-giving has ancient roots in record-keeping activities related to governance and money-lending systems that first developed in Ancient Israel, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and later, Rome. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines the word accountable as:

  • Liable to be called to account or to answer for the responsibilities and conduct: answerable and responsible. Chiefly of persons.
  • To be counted on or reckoned.
  • Able to be reckoned or computed.
  • To be reckoned or charged, chargeable, attributable.
  • Able to be accounted for or explained, explicable.

The term implies “The quality of being accountable; liability for giving an account of, and answering for, discharge of duties or conduct; responsible, amenableness.” In ministry or business, we say that leadership accountability is acknowledging and accepting the responsibilities and results of the position. Bruce Winston writes that accountability is:

  • Willing acceptance of the responsibilities inherent in the leadership position with a commitment to serve the well-being of the ministry or business;
  • Expectation that the leader will be publicly linked to actions, behavior, communication, outcomes, performance, and value achieved
  • Expectation that the leader may be called on to explain beliefs, decisions, commitments, and strategies to constituents.

The 5 Questions Leaders Ask

Accountability is personal. It begins with the leaders. If accountability is desired, leaders must start by looking in the mirror and asking questions such as:

  1. When have my words about accountability been stronger than my actions?
  2. Where have I allowed things to exist that I now know were mistakes?
  3. Have I allowed people around me to misbehave, use ministry or company resources inappropriately, to foster ineffectiveness, and ultimately destroy value? If so, who and why?
  4. Have I allowed people around me to behave in a way that invalidates what I say I believe and stand for?
  5. Have I allowed others not to be accountable because I wanted to avoid a conflict, or was I benefiting in some way from the continued existence of this situation?

These are tough questions, yet candid inquiry into one’s own accountability is essential. I have known many ministries and businesses to suffer or even close due to their leadership’s lack of personal accountability!

Advice to Leaders

My advice to leaders is that accountability, authenticity, and credibility all begin with you and your willingness to accept your own mistakes. This acceptance allows the leader to be bigger than the circumstances and openly talk about the consequences of prior actions. Accountability begins in the leader’s chair. If the leader is honest about themself, then there is an opening for establishing empowering accountability in the organization.

Accountability works when employees experience it as empowering and an expression of joint commitment to success. Accountability is not empowering when it is experienced as punitive. For example, it is common to hear a negative tone when managers use the term “Holds others to account.”  This punitive tone replaces the power which can be created in a candid conversation for accountability.

Further damage is done to the credibility of leadership when staff, volunteers, or employees experience “holding others to account” as a version of “do what I say, not what I do.” This is perceived by staff, volunteers, or employees as inherently hypocritical since the one who is “holding” does not act in an accountable manner nor hold themself to account. Remember the expression from a parent just before they give a child a spanking and says, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” While this expression may have had some emotional validity for a parent, I have found few kids who actually believed it. Too often, that is also the experience of employees who experience “Being Held to Account.”

Empowering accountability is among the first building blocks leaders must install in strategic growth. Accountability is a critical tool for leaders to achieve needed growth and value and then sustain that growth over time. Staff, volunteers, and employees will be willing to hold themselves to account if the leaders go first. When accountability is absent in leadership, the execution of strategic growth becomes a grind.

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Written by Stan Ponz
Dr. Stan Ponz is founder and president of Make It Clear Ministries (a national ministry that began in 1973 to help people take the Gospel and the Word of God into every person's world!). Stan also serves as President of Clarity Christian College. and is married to his high school sweetheart Carol, who led him to the Lord in 1966.