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Gut Check: Are You a Truly Accountable Leader?

Everybody nowadays is looking for more accountability from leaders. This has become so apparent to me as I’ve travelled around the world talking to leaders.

I find the mantra of leadership accountability is especially evident in new CEOs. As they come into the new company, they typically do so with an ambitious agenda from the Board. At times it might be about a complete turnaround, to steer the company back to growth. At other times, it may be to accelerate growth in new markets. And in many cases today, some are having to completely transform their company to ensure its very survival. Whatever the agenda, most of these CEOs know they can’t do it alone and will need a strong group of accountable leaders to help them drive success.

We don’t need to look any further than John Flannery, the newly minted CEO and Chairperson of General Electric Co (GE). GE is one of the greatest companies on the planet. They have had a great legacy of innovation and strong leadership. However, the world is changing fast and no company can rest on its laurels.

On his first day on the job in August, Flannery sent an email to employees announcing that the company needed to regain “a focus on running the company well.” He told employees he had met with more than 100 investors, all of whom are looking for a renewed dedication to meeting financial targets and trimming costs.

A 30-year veteran at GE, Flannery also warned his employees that amid a period of sagging financial performance, he and shareholders “expect more accountability internally and externally.”

What is important to me was that Flannery wasn’t aiming his message of accountability strictly at all his leaders and employees. Like all truly accountable leaders, his message was also for him. He said, “Accountability has to start with me.” This is a powerful message for everyone to hear.

The questions I get from CEOs who are in similar situations as Flannery are, “How do you go about driving a strong sense of accountability among leaders?” And “What does it ultimately look like?”

This is a focus of a lot of my work recently. Based on my client experiences and through our own global research, we have uncovered what leadership accountability actually looks like day to day.

In our research five key behaviors consistently emerged among the industry leading companies we surveyed. What’s staggering is how consistent these five behaviors were globally.

  1. They hold others accountable for high standards of performance. Truly accountable leaders are able to articulate clear standards and expectations for the people they lead. They always challenge their teams and colleagues to aim for high standards of performance. While in many ways this is an obvious point, and one we would expect to see in practice, it is clear that it is not widely demonstrated as frequently as one would expect. Part of setting high standards also means not tolerating mediocrity.
  2. They tackle tough issues and make difficult decisions. Truly accountable leaders proactively resolve to deal with tough issues. They don’t let problems and issues weigh them down.
  3. They effectively communicate the company’s strategy to those they lead. Accountable leaders have an undeniable ability to effectively communicate an organization’s strategy. This creates the foundation of accountability as teams and other employees understand clearly what they are expected to do to make the company successful.
  4. They express optimism about the company and its future. Accountable leaders are passionate about their companies. They express this enthusiasm daily to their teams. This has a direct connection to employee engagement. If leaders are not excited about what they are trying to do, then their employees will never be.
  5. They are clear about external trends in their business environment. Many leaders I find have their heads down, focused on the execution of priorities. They are often too internally focused, and spend precious little time looking at what competitors are doing, or what’s happening in the global economy. In contrast, accountable leaders continually scan their environment for opportunities to exploit, or identify threats and risks to manage. By anticipating, rather than reacting, they are able to better help drive the success of their companies.

As you read these five behaviors, how do you stack up? Chances are, if you are in a company that is transforming, you are most likely being asked to step up and be truly accountable. These five behaviors provide a personal road map for you to follow in your own role.

This week’s gut check for leaders asks: Are you a truly accountable leader?”

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its second edition.

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