Leadership and Personal Accountability

by Wayne Sharer

International speaker, author, and entrepreneur. Retired navy officer, former commanding officer. Over 35 years of leading, coaching, mentoring, and speaking.

February 15, 2018

In the previous post on leadership qualities, personal accountability was identified as the top quality found in effective leaders.

The reason it is number one is that regardless of your personality and regardless of your leadership style, you cannot lead effectively without being able to accept full accountability for everything that occurs with the people you lead.

This is the one trait many fail to acquire which ultimate destroys their leadership effectiveness. No leader ever survives by trying to shed personal accountability. Even the most brutal dictators fail on this point, and most get killed by the people they lead for doing so.

Accountability versus Responsibility in Leadership

Many will use accountability and responsibility interchangeably. This is wrong, particularly when looking at leadership.

As a Navy leader, I had no doubt I could delegate responsibility, but I could not do the same with accountability. The leader is the one that is held liable for the actions of those they lead. This is accountability.

You can be responsible for completing a project for your team, but you will not be held liable for the outcomes. Only the leader will hold this liability.

When I was the commanding officer of a carrier-based squadron, I fully accepted if anyone in the squadron made an error resulting in injury or death, I was the one to be held liable. Though the specific person making the error could lose some position, pay, or qualification, I could be held liable both legally and personally for the failure.

When flying as a mission commander, I was liable for all the decisions in the aircraft, and all the communications leaving the aircraft. As the commanding officer, I was also the one to answer for every mistake made by any of my aircrews. I could and never did try to say I wasn’t there, so it wasn’t my fault. I was always held accountable for how well each and every member of the squadron performed.

Responsibility carries burdens. But it doesn’t by default carry liability. A leader holds accountability for every action of those led and can delegate specific responsibilities to lead more effectively.

What is Personal Accountability in Leadership?

I’ll describe this further using politicians. In the USA, a Representative and/or a Senator elected to the US Congress often get described as leaders. This, by the government’s own definitions as well as mine, is wrong. These politicians get elected to either represent a district in their state or represent their state. They do not get elected to lead the state they come from or lead any other citizens of the country.

This is fully realized when you look at what they get held accountable for. Quite literally, their accountability is limited only to their personal conduct.

They can change the law. If this gets people killed, there is no liability of the politician.

They can spend millions, billions, even trillions of dollars. If it gets wasted, they pay no price for their poor fiscal decisions.

They oversee many crucial functions of the government. When they make poor decisions in these rolls, there is no liability for the decisions.

I could go on, but the bottom line is, the only thing the politician fears to lose is the next election. Face it, this is very limited accountability only in the form of a loss at the voting booth. If they lose, they simply get a job and go back to work. They never get held accountable for any of the poor decisions which often do cost people their lives.

This is not personal accountability in leadership. The politicians are not leaders, they are representatives.

A leader is held liable for everything that happens in their organization. So much so, that if a person dies under their leadership, they can be accountable to the law. The leader may not even know the person that suffered but accepts that the decisions made at the leadership position contribute to everything and every result in the organization, team, or company.

This level of liability scares the life out of many people and is often a major contributor to their non-willingness to lead. As a leader, the spotlight is truly focused on your every move. It is this level of liability that truly sets apart the leaders from the managers, followers, and representatives. It is a big part of what makes, “it’s lonely at the top” such a true statement.

Personal Accountability in Leadership Elements

How Does a Leader Get This Level of Accountability?

Is a person born with the ability to accept this level of accountability? I do believe everyone is.

What happens, based on my life’s observations, is the ability to do so is eroded through influences of parents, friends, teachers, and how you interact with your personal environment. It’s slowly taken away from you by what you choose to believe.

Ultimately, it’s your willpower that enables your ability to be ultimately accountable as a leader. To accept the levels beyond what the “average” person accepts requires you have a very strong will.

You must have the highest level of honesty with yourself and others to have the will to accept this liability. This requires the ultimate levels of integrity as well. Honesty is so difficult, it often hurts. Integrity adds the moral principles to the equation.

You must be of the highest moral character relevant to those you lead to be willing to accept the liability. Your truthfulness will revolve around the morality which, in turn, is the center of your willpower. Together, your ability to accept this liability is built every time it’s challenged as you lead.

Believe me, your willingness to be accountable gets challenged enough to challenge this will.

Creating a Leadership Accountability Plan

Though it isn’t possible to foresee every action that can turn your plans into disaster, it is possible for you to understand the weak points when you begin. One means of doing this is by creating leadership accountability plan.

Unlike personal accountability plans which focus on you having someone to hold you accountable, this is about knowing where responsibility can break down with those you lead. Its purpose is to reduce risk to you as the leader understanding where or when those you lead are most likely to falter.

Leadership Accountability PlanThe Leadership Accountability Plan is for leaders to gain an organized insight into leadership plans. It functions directly with the Personal Leadership Action Nexus (PLAN). Once you’ve completed the action nexus, the Leadership Accountability Plan allows you as the leader to conduct your own planning to make your job of being the one person accountable for results more confident.

You’ll be able to evaluate:

1. The level of professional responsibility of each of your team members.

2. The inherent risk level of your major task

3. Where and when to focus your leadership on responsible individuals and/or events.

To get your copy of the Leadership Accountability Plan, simply enter your name and email below, and it will be sent to you immediately.

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