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Accountability as a Leader: The Key to Leadership Success

A leader being accountable

When it comes to being a great leader, one key ingredient is accountability for yourself and others. Learn how to implement this into your leadership strategy.

A myriad of qualities separate good leaders from great leaders – it takes more than just being willing to step up to the plate. Having all the ideas and the motivation to turn them into something tangible is a healthy start. Still, in order to go the distance, leadership success relies heavily on having a vital element of accountability. It’s one thing to say you’re going to do something and another to be able to prove that you’re capable of following through on it, as well as supporting others to do the same. In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between leadership and accountability, how it looks in action, and why it plays such a crucial role in organizational success.

What Is Accountable Leadership?

In a nutshell, taking accountability in a leadership role means taking ownership of the decisions you’ve made as a company or organization’s leader, no matter what the outcome of your actions is. It’s a vital leadership skill to master for many reasons, and it’s not just about owning your actions, it’s also about owning how your actions affect those around you.

Accountability vs Responsibility

While these terms are commonly used in conjunction with each other, they do actually have quite differing meanings. When we talk about responsibility, we’re referring to tasks that are assigned to individuals and groups. For example, it could be your responsibility to present a proposal to a potential client. Accountability is how you respond to and take ownership of what happens after that – say if you were to miss out on the lead because you didn’t come well prepared.

Every person in an organization has a certain role to play, but ultimately, the leader is accountable for the overall success of the organization. Showing accountable leadership works to build rapport and trust among leaders and their team members, and it also sets an excellent example for how others should behave when it comes to owning their own decisions, as well as their mistakes. Being an accountable leader isn’t just centered around how the business functions, but also the kind of company culture you foster within that environment – when done right, it can have a powerful ripple effect throughout an organization.

Defining Leadership Accountability

We know now that leadership accountability is about taking ownership of outcomes, but how do we actually put that into practice in order for it to have a positive impact on a work environment? Here are some must-dos to make it possible.

Establishing Performance Standards

As a leader, taking accountability for how you set others up for success is incredibly important. Establishing a set of performance standards lets team members know what is expected of them, and also acts as a measurement tool so their performance can be monitored. It’s not about micromanaging, it’s about giving team members guidance so they have something to aim toward and a sense of direction within their role.

Having an open dialogue between leader and employee when it comes to discussing those performance standards means a connection can be formed, one that’s built on trust and respect for one another. The first stage of introducing performance standards is figuring out what they actually are, followed by how they can be measured, and then what the best way to provide feedback is.

Setting Clear Expectations for Your Team

Each and every team member has a set of responsibilities allocated to them depending on their role – clarifying what these are is a must during the early stages of implementing performance standards. Another thing to consider is how each team member is different, so working and adapting to their learning styles and strengths is critical. It’s also beneficial to consistently check in and make sure communication lines are always open so that you remain on the same page.

Creating a Culture of Accountability

For responsibility and accountability to remain a focus as a leader, and for the people you’re leading, you have to lay down the law from the get-go so everyone has an understanding of what is expected of them. It’s very much an exercise of showing people how it’s done – the more this is played out in the work environment, the more likely it will develop into a workplace culture that is supported by all.

Taking a Proactive Approach to Challenges and Setbacks

Bumps in the road should definitely be expected, no organization can function without them. What really matters is how you respond to them, learn from them, and then bounce back from them. Encouraging people to learn from these mistakes is a great way to foster a positive work environment. Because they are inevitable, taking accountability for them is what makes a true leader. But you can also take responsibility for putting things in place to prevent them from happening in the first place, as can your team members.

Provide Continuous Support and Constructive Feedback

No one can be expected to be a part of a culture of accountability if they don’t have outside support and a way to receive and give feedback. Ensuring this is part of a workplace’s process will work to keep communication constructive, resolve issues effectively, and enhance the overall work environment and the successes that come out of that. Make sure to make space for these conversations to be open and acknowledge that it must be a two-way street for it to be worthwhile.

The Benefits of Cultivating Accountability as a Leader

Now that you know how leadership accountability works, let’s explore why it’s such a crucial part of the success of a company or organization.

Creates Trust

When team members see that those in leadership roles are accountable for the outcomes of their decisions and vice versa, a relationship of trust starts to form between the two. Once you are able to build trust, it has an enormous impact on the health of a work environment, takes unnecessary pressure off all involved, and encourages people to want to work hard for the cause.

Fosters a Sense of Responsibility

Encouraging people to take responsibility for their actions and decisions leaves less room for conflict in the workplace, and creates a space to move forward from it with lessons learned. At the same time, for people to take responsibility, it needs to be made clear what is required of them from the outset, what will happen if these expectations are not met, and for support to be provided along the way.

Encourages Transparency and Strengthens Relationships

If barriers to communication are removed between those in leadership roles and those they are leading, people aren’t left to guess what others expect of them or what they’re thinking. Transparency between parties is crucial in working towards a common goal and maintaining strong relationships along the way.


Building accountability as a leader is as much about taking ownership of your actions and the outcomes of those as it is about the example you set for those around you – lead and others will follow by example. Remember that responsibility is about taking on the roles set out for you and accountability is how you react to the result, but none of this can be achieved in a vacuum.

Setting expectations for your team members, establishing a way to measure them, consistently providing and allowing for honest and open feedback, and coming up with solutions for moving forward are all part of the process of being an accountable leader. Once you lean into accountability, success will naturally follow.


Aish Hinton

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