The buck stops with you: Why leaders must make themselves accountable

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21 July 2022
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

Delegating concept. Wooden figurines and arrows

Leaders don’t have absolute power, and they’re not infallible – even if many would like to think they are. But, they are the ones in charge, and the success or failure of a project or team often rests on their shoulders. There’s a lot of pressure that comes from this.

The trick with effective leadership is understanding your place in a team or organisation. Even when you’re on top of the chain of command, it doesn’t put you above everything else. Your authority and responsibility as a leader come from accepting accountability for what goes right and wrong with your people.

For new leaders (and even some experienced one), it’s easy to overlook this accountability, and it’s not always the most instinctive feeling to accept responsibility for someone else’s shortcomings. However, to be the best possible leader, you can’t just set instructions and then sit back. You don’t necessarily need to micromanage everyone, but if things start going wrong you need to know and you need to be ready to step in.

 

Get everyone invested

The most effective people in a team understand what they need to personally do for everyone succeed. Whether you’re in a very small team where you all do a bit of everything, or you’re in a multi-national business where everyone has strict roles, everyone should consider themselves an important part of the system. They should know that if they don’t do their part right, they’re making it harder for everyone else.

The best leaders take it upon themselves to make sure all the people around them understand their individual roles. Success is a team effort, but that effort has to start from the top with the goals and vision coming from their leader.

This shouldn’t have to mean micromanaging or watching over their shoulder, it means sharing your vision and making sure everyone’s motivated. Make yourself available to answer questions and offer support, but most importantly, prioritise ensuring everyone knows how their personal input will help the success of the whole team.

 

Be there for your team

The paradox of good leadership is that when things go well, you give credit to those around you and when things go poorly, people look to the leadership for answers. It doesn’t always feel fair, but that’s the position every good leader should happily put themselves in.

Being an effective leader is much more than just being the one in charge and delegating workloads. You’re the one that needs to instil the right motivation and attitudes into the people around you. You’ve got the vision for the end result, and it’s on you to get your team to give it their best.

You need to stand up and be accountable when it matters. If your team’s work isn’t up to the necessary standards, it’s your responsibility to find out why and solve the issue. It’s on you to spot when workloads are too high, or morale is low. Whether you’re the one that sets the work or just manages it, as a leader it’s on you to identify when problems happen.

You should know your people and their roles well enough to predict and pre-emptively avoid major issues. You should make it known to those around you that you’re there to help, so problems don’t fester and grow.

This is where the split happens: if you can’t get the best out of your people, it’s either because you’ve assigned the wrong work to the wrong people, or you’ve been unable to get them to do what’s needed. But if they do succeed, it’s ultimately because they’ve worked hard.

Of course, you should be congratulated and recognised for leading them and getting them to do their best work, but you should understand that there’s really no place for ego when it comes to the very best leaders. Success should be shared; failures are yours to bear.

 

Be a Cause, not just an Effect

There’s an interesting concept in Psychology, known as the Locus of Control. It’s essentially the amount of control people believe they have over their own life and behaviour. People with a high internal locus see themselves as firmly in charge of their own actions, whereas those with a high external locus view the things they do as products of forces and factors beyond their control.

This becomes relevant when talking about a leader’s accountability, because you have to decide how much of what you’ve done or not done was really your fault. If a task didn’t work out, are you just unlucky, or could you have done something different?

The most effective leaders should always approach events as being under their control. There’s obviously a limit to your power over external forces, but you do have agency over how you and your teams act and react.

Let’s use the example of the recent pandemic. Many organisations struggled and had to change plans due to lockdowns, sudden changes to working conditions, economic effects and staff shortages. As this was occurring, people running organisations could either admit defeat or they could create new plans and make the most of the new situation. Those organisations that could adapt to working from home or pivot their business model to make the most of the new environment were the ones that did best.

For organisations and industries unable to work from home, they still had decisions to make – should they temporarily shut their doors, change business models, move online and so on. Not every decision is easy or intuitive, and some things are genuinely out of your hands, but leaders are always able to make active decisions within the confines to the situation they’re in.

Your leadership skills are essential here. Your vision of what success means should always be your driving force. The mutual support you and your team give each other is your biggest asset in these challenging moments. You know what you’re all capable of, and even when circumstances become difficult, you should never consider yourself beaten. You’re accountable for your success. There is no such thing as ‘luck,’ only what you make of the situation you find yourself in.

This isn’t always as easily said than done, but once you view yourself as the master of circumstances – and not at the mercy of the next difficult moment – you’ll become much more confident and start seeing new opportunities everywhere.

 

Leaders have to know that they can’t succeed on their own, and there’s no place for ego. They should be there for their people – making themselves accountable for creating genuine motivation, purpose and drive, building a powerful unit with the vision and confidence to weather any storm. The right leader knows their people and stands by them. When things go well, they praise their team and when things don’t go well, they look inwards to find what they should have done differently.

 

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