On Leadership and Courageous Accountability

Courageous Accountability

Take a moment to reflect back on 2013 and recall the parade of high-profile leaders who have not taken responsibility for broken pledges (simply scan “leadership broken promises” in a web search).

Can you see how natural and frequent it is to justify, redefine, or shift blame to others and not take responsibility when promises are broken?

Regardless of how much this violation of trust is played down, it’s a serious matter when leaders put their own needs above their commitments.

Looking Back on 2013

As we began the new year, I challenged all of us to focus on accountability beginning with ourselves as people. My main point was holding ourselves personally accountable for keeping our promises and commitments.

Two questions for you –

  • How did it go this year? Have you raised yourself to a consistently higher standard in owning your responsibilities, keeping your word, and meeting your commitments?
  • If you think you are above any problems in this area, are you willing to ask others for their direct and honest feedback about you?

Keeping our personal and professional commitments is crucial.

If we don’t –

  • It diminishes our influence as a leader.
  • It also undermines our credibility to face others who need to be held accountable.

These are all good reasons to continue growing in personal accountability and focus on holding others accountable.

Changing the Negative Image of Accountability

I know some people don’t like the word accountability because it seems hard and difficult to do for the leader.

“Accountability is not about using fear or threat of punishment as a motivator; it’s about proactively helping people and teams get better results and achieve success.”

But it’s not about using fear or threat of punishment as a motivator; it’s about proactively helping people and teams get better results and achieve success. Reframing the positive image of accountability is so needed in today’s culture that I’m writing a concise “how to” book to help you deal with the subject.

Courageous Accountability

The book will cover several major themes (the working title is Courageous Accountability and Leading with Honor), but here’s an overview of two of those themes with insights that can guide you in 2014.

1. Courage

Let’s be honest—confronting people about their behaviors or performance can feel uncomfortable because we fear it will bring conflict. That’s normal for most all of us, but underneath that fear is a lie that it’s going to turn out bad. The truth is that when confrontation is done appropriately, it’s the most caring thing to do.

In his latest book, The Advantage, Pat Lencioni addresses this, saying “…failing to hold someone accountable is ultimately an act of selfishness.”

How can a person improve if you don’t tell them? Actually, in not confronting, you’re mainly protecting yourself at the other person’s expense and your relationship with them.

“My definition of courage is doing the right thing even when it doesn’t feel natural or safe, and leaders who display accountability in a strong, positive way have to be courageous!”

2. Clarity

You must get clarity before you can give clarity. At the 100,000 foot level, this means you and your people must have a clear understanding of mission, vision, values and the culture of the organization. Then, at lower levels, clarity includes an understanding of professional standards, your personal style and operational guidelines, and clarity about expected outcomes.

There also needs to be an ongoing dialogue to maintain alignment by clarifying how things are going and whether or not any coaching or help from you is needed. Clarity on the rewards and consequences for performance and behaviors is also critical.

Think about your stance on accountability for yourself and for others. What have been your accountability failures? What did you learn from them? What have been your accountability successes? Our followers would love to hear your thoughts, and your input would be helpful to me as I’m working on my new book*.

*Lee welcomes your questions and comments in this blog forum, or you may email him at [email protected].

Previous Articles in This Series:

Part 1 – What is Accountability and Notes from the Cliff

Part 2 – Why Accountability is Crucial to Life and the Superbowl

Part 3 – Shocking Cheating Scandal at Harvard and Clarifying Expectations

Part 4 – How Mentoring and Coaching Builds Trust

Part 5 – Seven Tips to Celebrating the Big Payoff

Part 6 – How to Take Actions When Expectations Aren’t Met


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | Book | Facebook | Twitter

His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

Image Sources: doughughesblog.com

L2L Contributing Author


  1. theotherbottomline on December 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    A great post Tom – thank you!


  2. Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. on December 4, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Good concepts here.

    • Lee Ellis on December 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      Thank you, Jagoda–so glad that these concepts resonate with you and your work. These concepts are simple but not always easy, are they?

  3. maconsultancy on December 5, 2013 at 3:31 am