The Value of Reverse Accountability

Leaders, more often than not, have responsibility for a team. That team may consist of a small group, a department, or an entire organization. The leader’s task is to develop, train, build, inspire, and lead the team to achieve the objectives and move toward fulfillment of the vision of the organization. That requires oversight, management, and keeping the team members or employees accountable. Those who stand out can be rewarded or given advancement. Those who fall short can be coached up or in the most extreme circumstances released from the team. The knowledge that accountability is expected can serve as a motivational device in and of itself.

Reverse accountability can likewise serve to inspire team members. What is reverse accountability? One thing that I have always done with teams that I lead is to communicate that they can ask me, at any time, the status of anything I have ever said, stated, communicated, or promised. When leading teams in regular staff meetings I have often added to the agenda a “what about” section. This part of the staff meeting allows team members to hold me accountable for anything I ever said we would or should do as a team, or that I would do as the team leader. They can ask me as an agenda item in a staff meeting or during the normal course of our work. I owe an explanation if something did not get done. It could be that a change took place which affected the ability to see it through, that it is in process and I need to give the team an update on the status, that I could not deliver as expected and did not clearly communicate the reason, or that progress has been delayed. Fewer things are more frustrating to a team member than a leader who often says things and fails to follow through. The lack of action erodes trust, causes frustration, and hinders progress.

Reverse accountability gives the leader increased credibility because thru-put occurs and when action is delayed or plans are changed, the team has full awareness of the underlying reasons. Are you accountable to those you lead? Have you communicated and encouraged the method(s) of accountability? Can your team members speak honestly to you without fear of retribution when they give sincere and honest feedback? If you can pull that off, and you should certainly be trying, you are destined to maximize your leadership.

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