How to train for accountability

Myers Barnes accountability new home salesI see t-shirts that proclaim “Be Stronger Than Your Excuses”. I hear people declare, “It wasn’t my fault.” Why is our culture so focused on avoiding responsibility? One of the most important leadership skills is knowing how to train for accountability with each member of your team.

Absolutely the first thing each of us needs to do is to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We can’t grow from there if we don’t first recognize that we hold responsibility.

For those of us who entered the working world before the emergence of the Internet, we know that it was our job to do our job. We didn’t expect our employers to cater to our needs. The reality was the opposite. We had a different mindset about “earning a living”, with the emphasis on “earning”. 

This isn’t intended to be one of those “back in MY day” conversations, but I have noticed that accountability has lessened in subsequent generations of workers. Helicopter parents didn’t just swoop in and rescue their kids. They also shielded them from accepting responsibility. Now, the kids are adults and they simply haven’t been raised to be accountable.

As a team leader, it’s your job. So here are a few tips on how to train for accountability.

#1. Keeping them happy doesn’t mean shielding.

Pampering is what got the unaccountable person to this place. Excusing the action without correcting it will encourage irresponsible behavior to keep going. You’re not only preventing it, but indirectly condoning the lack of accountability.

The problem will get worse. And you might end up with having to part ways with someone who could have been a valued team member. 

#2. Clearly communicate expectations—and don’t waver.

A person who isn’t accountable has been allowed to be that way. You need to stand firm to overcome the behavior. When someone comes to you with “It wasn’t my fault”, “I didn’t know”, “I didn’t do it”, “I thought So-and-So was doing it”, “I didn’t have time”, or any excuse, tell them you’re not pointing a finger but merely looking to find a solution and avoid repeating the mistake.

Here’s how the conversation goes:

“First, I need you to accept your own role in the situation.”

“But I…”

“I’m going to stop you right there. No ‘buts’ about it. We all make mistakes. How we grow from them is what makes the difference between getting stronger and smarter versus remaining stagnant because you don’t carry the weight of your own responsibility. This isn’t punishment at all. I’ve been where you are and I’m trying to help you.”

#3. Establish a safe zone for mistakes.

Strong leaders cultivate growth in the group, but they make some changes in private.

You set challenges for your people that will strengthen their talents, not allow them to sit back and stagnate. Remind each of them that you expect stumbling and it’s ok. Reinforce that a mistake is a learning opportunity. It doesn’t need to be covered up or excused. Those actions delay the solution. 

However, when you need to make a correction, do it in private, not in front of the group. By taking this approach, you demonstrate your respect for the individual. Berating someone in public only makes YOU look like the fallible one.

When a mistake happens, discuss what went wrong, without laying blame. Phrase it like “Here’s what I see” as opposed to “Here’s what you did wrong”.

#4. Be the model of accountability.

There’s nothing quite as effective as role modeling to influence behavior. A leader is not excluded from the rules, but reinforces them through words and action. When something goes wrong, acknowledge your role in it. “I may not have made my expectations clear” is one way to address this. 

What you don’t want to do is absorb all the responsibility. Follow up with “In the future, if you have any question about what I need or want, could you let me know? We can avoid miscommunication and the results of it. We’re a team. We share in the credit as well as the missteps.”

What have you done to encourage accountability? I’d love to hear your success stories!

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