Accountability. Merriam-Webster defines accountability as an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or account for one’s actions. It’s about owning it – whatever itmay be. My 9-year-old daughter forged her dad’s signature on a test (a test she aced, by the way), because she had already forgotten twice to ask one of us to sign it, and she didn’t want to get in any more trouble. I caught the not-so-similar signature, and we had a little talk about accountability. We, as parents, had a choice. We could handle it at home and brush it under the rug. OR…we could use that moment, which would never even be a blip on her life radar when all was said and done, and reinforce that we all need to be accountable for our actions. We told her she had to go to school and fess up to her teacher and accept whatever the consequences would be. She failed to do her job properly – to bring me the test and ask me to sign it. I’m her leader. It’s my job to tell her what she did wrong, talk through what she should’ve done, and take any appropriate corrective action. I am responsible for teaching my child right from wrong. If I failed her as a parent – as her leader, then she wouldn’t learn from the experience, and I would be fostering an environment where lying is acceptable, and there are no consequences for poor behavior.
Newsflash — The same principles apply at work. Being a leader at work means you are responsible for the performance of your team. You take on this responsibility the moment you become a leader, and you own it throughout the employment life cycle of your team. Being a parent isn’t easy. Being a leader isn’t easy either. It takes a lot of work to not only be good at what YOU do, but to make your team good at what THEY do. What happens if you’re a poor leader? The short answer is turnover. Your team quits, both figuratively and literally. They quit trying so hard. They quit expending discretionary effort. They quit being loyal. Sooner or later, they quit the gig entirely and try to find a better place to work (which is code for trying to find a better leader). Turnover is expensive. In 2012, it cost about $10,000 to replace an employee who earns $50,000 per year, according to CBS News. As employees become more senior in the company, the cost increases exponentially. There’s the stuff that costs money, such as recruiters and job ads. But Inc. reminds us that there are many more costs – the ones we either don’t think about or purposely ignore: decreased production or productivity, lack of knowledge transfer and decreased morale.
The bottom line: we can’t expect people who have never led others or who aren’t leading well to miraculously be great leaders. We need to teach them how to be good leaders at every stage of the employee life cycle. Here’s what leaders can do:
- Make and own hiring decisions for your team.
- Ensure new team members have an onboarding plan.
- Learn your team members’ career aspirations and, where appropriate, expose them to the opportunities that will get them there.
- Coach your team members on a regular basis.
- Harness strengths but be aware of weaknesses and work on them.
- Hold all team members to the same expectations.
- Be accountable for your actions, and teach your team members to be accountable for theirs.
- Remember that your team members have bills to pay and/or families who depend on them. You don’t have to keep poor-performing employees or employees who behave badly, but you can remember that they are human beings.
It boils down to culture. Leaders have the ability to foster a culture of accountability and productivity and creativity. The leader sets the tone, and the team members spread it like wildfire. If you foster the right culture, the business results will speak for themselves.