The 7 Deadly Sins of Accountability

Shelley SmithBlog, Workplace Culture

7 Deadly Sins of Accountability

Highway to Hell or Stairway to Heaven? You Choose.

Accountability, delegation, and culture share a common origin: they all come straight from the top. In any organization it is the responsibility of leadership to establish objectives, drive progress, and meet goals. So what happens when that’s not happening?

It’s a hell of a downhill ride, that’s what.

Growth, success, and profit share a common destination: they are all claimed by the top, despite the fact that most of the actual work is performed by lower-level employees. When those employees pick up on that pattern, that’s when culture starts to turn sour.

Over the past decade, I’ve seen it happen again and again. Allow me to introduce the 7 deadly sins of accountability, personified as a supervisor that you’ve likely had (or been!) at some point in your career.

1. The Invisible Manager.

We’ve all experienced the boss who is the life of the party when things go right … but pulls a disappearing act when an angry client is on the phone. Accountability starts at the top, and such company culture teaches employees that, at this institution, hiding from failure is perfectly acceptable. If you don’t want your employees to do it, then you shouldn’t do it either.

Ye Must Repent: The only solution for chronic invisibility is the bright light of accountability. Own up to not only your own mistakes, but also those of your employees. When they know you’ve got their back, they’ll have yours—but until then, it’s every (invisible) man for himself.

2. The People Person.

Not all hard workers are great with people, and vice versa. That’s not to say that someone can’t be good at both—far from it! However, your organization has a chronic problem if charisma is prioritized above performance.

Seek Higher Power: A systematic shift must take place in order for this deadly sin to be rectified. For the company to succeed, employees must be successful in their roles, which is only possible when they are good at them. Hire, reward, and promote based on talent, not water-cooler chats.

3. The Mute Manager.

Deadlines matter … or do they? A manager who never acknowledges that they’ve been met or missed does a disservice to the entire company. Silence can be more deadly than a million overdue deadlines, as it trains employees to ignore milestones and goals. If leadership doesn’t seem to care, then neither will anyone else.

Speak the Truth: Ignoring a commitment doesn’t make it go away. Transparency is the way to go here; acknowledge to employees that mistakes were made in the past, and assure them that change is coming. Set small feasible milestones and be sure to acknowledge, celebrate, and even reward the team when they’re met. In no time the message will be received: deadlines do matter.

4. The Rock-Kicker.

“That’s not my department; nobody told me about that; the last I heard it was on someone else’s plate; it’s not my fault.” If you frequently hear or speak these words at the office then your company has a serious case of Scapegoat-itis. Lucky for you, it’s completely treatable!

Confess your Sins: Whether you’re leadership or not, nobody likes working with a snake in the grass. Trust is critical for teamwork, and if you’re always looking to push someone under the bus in your stead, it’s doubtful your team trusts you at all. Personal accountability is your friend here; apologize personally to coworkers you may have harmed professionally, and then genuinely work on breaking down your “me-first” mentality. Only by building bridges can you cross them.

5. The Clueless CEO.

As the boss your boots aren’t always on the ground, I get it. While it’s great to trust your employees, it’s also important to remain engaged and in the loop as to what your company is up to, or hire leaders who can.

Wash their Feet: Not literally. In a symbolic gesture, demonstrate a real interest in your employees, customers, and company. It’s more than a bottom line—it’s people, hopes, and culture. Take your team out for lunch, take your clients out for coffee, schedule a company event or retreat, and take the time to get yourself caught up with the work that’s happening around you.

6. The Hopeless Head of House.

This supervisor may exemplify all, or none, of the traits above. They may exhibit some non-accountability behaviors that are uniquely their own, which I have not encountered (yet). Regardless of this leader’s shortcomings, their main fault is this: they are unwilling to change.

Surrender: Change is scary, but it is the only way to improve. Repeating the same patterns will only ever yield the same results. I’ll put it this way: nothing is ever going to change unless you change it.

7. The Lonely Leader.

The lonely leader is a direct result of every other item on this list. When leadership dodges, ducks, dives, and dips to avoid accountability, they will soon find themselves alone in an empty office. Top-performers will see through the charade instantly. Even sub-par employees won’t last in this pass-the-blame, popularity contest, zero-accountability, toxic environment.

Sacrifice: If you’re the problem, you may need to step out of the picture. Unless you’re willing to commit to your company, customers, and culture (AKA employees) then you’re harming the business, and yourself. Everyone is human, we all make mistakes, and we’re all capable of forgiveness.

Humble yourself before your employees, acknowledge issues, and promise that change is coming. Now for the hard part: Keep your word.