The Necessity of Accountability

Watch your head


Depending on your experiences and philosophical perspective, that word can conjure a wide variety of feelings, many of which seem similar to that feeling you got in the pit of your stomach when your mom told you to go wait in your room for your dad to get home. However, most of us would likely agree that accountability, at least in some vague, general sense, is a necessary component of healthy teams and organizations.

But here’s the thing. Accountability, rightly understood, is a shared thing between two or more people. It’s not a one-way street. In other words, it is two or more folks holding each other accountable to uphold shared values and/or performance expectations. That sort of accountability can have an amazing and positive impact on a team because it builds trust, promotes healthy conflict, and so on.

Unfortunately, though, accountability is not always thought of in this way. This is an issue that plagues many organizations, often the higher you go on the org chart. Leadership positions, up to and certainly including the CEO, need to have real accountability in place. When leaders don’t have real accountability, they are able to essentially do whatever they’d like. And that can get ugly in a hurry.

Imagine a boss who has limited real accountability, and on top of that has a narcissistic personality, is emotionally abusive, and possesses a nearly non-existent moral compass. That boss will likely terrorize those who work for him or her, because what’s to stop him or her? It’s a recipe for disaster.

How do you know there might be a lack of real accountability? Ask yourself the following questions.

What happens when someone raises concerns about a manager, executive, or CEO? Do they end up being victimized as a result of speaking up? 

Are legitimate and concrete corrective actions put in place for managers up to and including the CEO, or are issues routinely swept under the rug and/or rationalized away?

When managers up to and including the CEO see regular turnover on their teams, are the reasons for that turnover really explored? Or are leaders able to simply shrug and chalk it up to what they might call “bad” employees?

Do managers up to and including the CEO insist on accountability for everyone, but then avoid it at all costs themselves? 

Are managers up to and including the CEO able to routinely talk their way out of any potential issues? 

When’s the last time managers up to and including the CEO took full and complete responsibility for things going wrong on their teams? Or is it typically an exercise in deflection and rationalization?

A lack of real accountability usually has a destructive impact on teams and organizations, and the longer bad bosses are allowed to function without real accountability, the longer the organization will suffer the consequences.

4 thoughts on “The Necessity of Accountability

  • Great thoughts Matt. The word “accountability” often rubs me wrong because it seems most people like to use the word in relation to what others should be doing and don’t always apply it to themselves. As you mention, it’s about a 2 way relationship – both parties being responsible and committed to each other.

    Take care,


  • Great stuff, Matt! When I work with my clients, the 2 challenges that I hear most often are communication and inconsistent levels of accountability. As we know, not are crucial to an organization’s success!

  • Addressing the question, “ What happens when someone raises concerns about a manager, executive, or CEO? Do they end up being victimized as a result of speaking up?” Isn’t it in your own experience that when a sub-subordinate took umbrage at management behavior that sub-subordinate was written up for unprofessional conduct? What kind of accountability allows an executive to encourage a directly reporting manager to penalize his/her subordinate because that executive doesn’t like the reflection he/she casts, regardless of how true it might have been? The answer is…an oppressive one. Wake up and smell the little guy’s coffee: this is quite the norm regardless of how ostensibly enlightened and progressive the culture might be. Accountability, or lack thereof, is directly proportional to the level of authority. This is reality.

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