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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #40: Characteristics of Highly Accountable People

June 10, 2019
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #40: Characteristics of Highly Accountable People

One challenge for leaders is learning how to cultivate team accountability. A strong sense of accountability is one of the most important ways leaders can drive intrinsic motivation and powerful results. In Episode #40 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, we explore the characteristics of highly accountable people and how leaders can promote those traits in the workplace.

To learn more about building accountable teams, consider bringing a 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop to your organization this year.

Listen to all podcasts in this series and subscribe to new episodes on iTunes– or Google Play.

Read the transcript below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast. Our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to drive remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach. And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Today’s topic is titled Characteristics of Highly Accountable People. And I guess we could even subtitle it, Driving Results Through Accountability. Now this is a Level 3 focus for us. Let me start out by saying that it’s not negative. Like when you hear even just who’s accountable for that site, you need to think about the accountability and the word right. This is not a negative approach, this is just part of what we do as leaders and as businessmen and women, what we need to be focused on. And this is always being discussed in leadership circles, like how do I become more accountable? How do I hold my team more accountable? We’re going to give you some tools today that’ll help drive some of this.

Let’s start with how you define accountability. And I guess for me, growing up, accountability was who’s to blame when something’s not done right, who’s accountable for this mess. Now that I’ve lived through a lot more, I believe accountability is more about ownership and who owns the outcome that we’re seeking. And it’s really a mindset shift to embed into your team, that mind shift of ownership, not blame and its ownership on the front end, not blame on the back end. Accountability comes at the beginning, not at the end.

And I think we need to differentiate a little bit even between what I would call personal accountability and team accountability because one of them doesn’t lead to the other, right? So just because I hold myself accountable doesn’t mean that my team is going to be held accountable. And we’ve also got to think about, okay, so teams are made up of individuals. And so we got to figure out the accountability structure there and the personal side of it. But then how do we collectively hold them kind of responsible, “accountable”. And I know for me this is actually in my growth plan this year because we’ve talked about this, that naturally, you have a bent towards the Level 2 or Level 3. My natural bent is towards Level 2. While I’m always leaning towards reading and learning something new at Level 2, I need to work on my Level 3 areas, my production, my accountability, my drive for results.

And so, part of my growth plan with my CEO, Mark Cole, this year is we’ll have our one on ones, but we also have Level 3 focused meetings because he knows that I tend to be a little relational and connect and the accountability and the numbers need both. I’m just letting you know that all of us need to be working on these areas and it’s not a negative, but let’s talk a little bit about the fact that there is a difference between the personable personal accountability and team accountability. So, I was looking at four characteristics that I just noticed about highly accountable people and just, we should probably do personal team may be back and forth on that because a characteristic, number one, I notice if you’re a highly accountable person, you set a high standard for yourself and for others, you’re not winging it.

You have a standard that you’re shooting for, you’ve set yourself and the team up for success through standards, and sometimes there’s a lot of moral failures. And if an integrity failure is being broadcast in the news from leaders, I think that if you had a really high standard for yourself, that might be a starting place to really own that. And today’s technology, you got to understand everything’s being recorded, both audibly or even video-wise. And it’s something you need to be highly aware of. Even some of what you may post, whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. So, you know, when you talk about this, the highest standards for personal accountability when I think about it is that you don’t give yourself a break that you wouldn’t give anybody else.

You kind of own your outcomes. Whatever the mistakes, the positive results, what have you own it, you personally own a team, accountability. You communicate clearly what the standards of performance are to the team. And I think I kind of broke it down. Greg Cagle talks a lot about these three words, one of our executive facilitators and coaches. He talks about clarity, alignment, and accountability, and so we need to be communicating with clarity to our team so that they have proper expectations. We need to be communicating often to our teams so that we’re in alignment, not necessarily always in agreement, and then I think the natural result of that and what will follow will be the accountability side of that. I love this. A standard of performance and reading a lot about how leaders set that up and it really is having a vision, knowing where we’re going, having that foundation of a clarity, like you said, that what, what is we’re trying to accomplish, what’s the outcome we’re seeking, and then what’s the ownership?

Who owns what part of that and this really communicating that a characteristic number 2 of a highly accountable person, I found that they expect more from themselves. They could possibly expect more from others as well. I just noticed that they don’t let themselves off the hook. To me, this means that you don’t just have good intentions, that you’re going to get things done. You actually take the actions needed and no matter how uncomfortable that may be. And I think this one, we can kind of almost combine the personal and the team side. And I think it’s easy for us to judge others by what they do, right? It’s what we see. It’s what’s been quoted out there that we judge ourselves by our intentions. We judge other people by their actions. I think our team does the exact same thing.

And collectively, you guys can all kind of move down that, that path of beginning to judge other people, other leaders, other teams by what you see versus what their true intentions are. And I think highly accountable people and/or teams, they just don’t rest on what their intentions are. We’ve heard that famous statement that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s really kind of about what you do and the fact that what your team does and how you produce. And so we need to make sure that whether it’s for ourselves personally or a team, that we’re very action oriented, that we’re moving the needle when it comes to the production side of things.

And like our friend Andy Stanley likes to teach, your destination is determined by your direction, not your intention. So are you actually going in that direction? Characteristic number 3 of a highly accountable person. I love this. They receive feedback really well. In fact, they seek feedback so they can better understand if they’re on track. They don’t kind of wait around for somebody to give them feedback. They know they own it and the outcome and they’re looking for feedback. And that they probably also provide feedback pretty freely.

When it comes to personal accountability, I think highly accountable people make sure that they have an inner circle or a place you could call it a safe place where they can go and actually get candid feedback. And you know, John Talks a lot about having an inner circle and he talks about having an outer circle and his inner circle are the men and women, a select few, in his life that know everything about him, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, all that stuff. And they can have very real and candid conversations. And then once they step out of that conversation, there’s no judgment. It’s just real facts back and forth to each other. The outer circle he talks about bringing new thoughts and new thinkers and innovative and different ideas to where he can’t have the same conversations from an accountability standpoint personally with that outer circle.

And so, I would challenge you here, are there a couple of men and women in your life that you can develop an inner circle to where you can have some of those, those accountability conversations when it comes to team accountability?  I think highly accountable leaders give and receive feedback well to their team. One of the things I wrote down here is that I think when the team is in this mindset, they do it in real time and the power of doing accountability and conversations as a team in real time, whether it’s in your weekly team meetings, whether it’s in a daily stand up, whatever the pace of your work is, adjustments can be made. And it goes back to even what we just talked about, about what you are doing, the action oriented. So, I think you need to model that behavior. You need to seek feedback, whether it’s from your inner circle, from your team, and then as a team. I think you guys need to be able to have those conversations real-time in order to be able to make it just judgments in the business.

I’m surprised by the number of conversations I have, either as a coach or facilitator doing the Five Levels, when I bring up the inner circle idea, people haven’t thought about this. And I think when I was younger I hadn’t either. I kind of figured it out later that I needed to. I need a handful, maybe three or four, that know everything about me and my wife leads that. And then I have three men, then I can just say anything to, and they can say anything to me. That keeps you from reading your own press clippings.  Characteristic number four, the last one, have a highly accountable person, as they are very outcome focused. They know what they’re trying to accomplish. They also know why they are trying to accomplish it. This really helps with not being distracted by all the noise that’s around you and keeps you priority focused, I find.

You know, this is a great point about knowing your why, and obviously Simon Sinek has talked a lot about this and other people I’ve talked to have a lot of buzz about it, so I don’t want to kind of drill too deep here, but this is so important for personal and team accountability.  I think especially when it comes to your team, you need to communicate and connect the why to them. A lot of times as leaders, we have the privilege and sometimes the burden of knowing more than others do. And we also should be able to see more than others see. And we should be able to see further than others can see. And so when that’s the case, it is so important for us to make sure that we are communicating why they are here, why are they part of the team.

Why this project, why this change, why this whatever. And then why the role that they play in that project is so important. And when you do that, I think they wear the weight of accountability as a team member and as an individual greater. If you don’t connect with them, if you don’t give them the why, I mean you think about some of the projects that you’ve been on. And I wrote down this statement; as leaders, we are good at telling them what to do right? And the why is completely missed. But I think high performing teams or even individuals truly rest in the why. I was getting ready to talk about some of the things that we’ve done in the past where you’re like, yeah, like are we just checking the box and when you check the box you go about it. If you really wouldn’t have a true conversation, you go about it a different way to check the box. Then if you understand the why behind checking the box, then they might be a little bit more of discretionary effort that we talk about there. When it comes to understanding the why as an individual or a team.

Times are kind of good right now. And business is kind of good right now. A number of the folks I coach there, I say, how’s businesses, best it’s ever been? Well, what’s happening? They’re not even checking the box. They’re skipping the box. The accountability is going by the wayside because times are good and when times are tough, we start analyzing everything. When times are good, we kind of back off. I thought, now’s the time to really look at things. And I’ve said to that one thing I’ve noticed over the years, that accountability, both personal and team has to start with me. It has to start with the leader. People are watching you. I think we’ve said that a thousand times here and there.

They’re looking to see, are you really doing what you’re asking us to do? They’re less likely to take ownership if I’m not taking ownership for my stuff. And I’ll just add a tip a well, know what you think about this. I just started doing it in the last six months. I heard it from a friend, but he called it Follow Up Fridays and I said tell me more and he said all week he kept a notebook, either a physical notebook or an electronic, it doesn’t matter what you do, but every time he was working with this team and a commitment is made, either he makes a commitment or somebody makes a commitment, he jots it down in his follow up file. And on Friday, he goes to his file and look, what are the things I need to follow up on?

Things that I committed to and things that others committed to me. And I told him, yeah, I get in trouble because I’m going into a customer call. Five days before I had asked somebody for something, they said, I’ll get that right over to you. They didn’t do it. I’m now at the customer location. I don’t have it. What do I do? Well, if I had a Follow Up Friday, I would’ve said, oops, I don’t have that yet. I’m going to need that. And it just really kind of made it more intentional about that accountability. I said it, I do it, I’m going to do it. I own that. And I think the Follow Up Fridays, I think that’s a great idea twofold. One, if you’re missing something and you need to hold somebody accountable or you need to be accountable. Two, it’s also a way to communicate that something was accomplished. Yeah, I am bad about a ‘got it’. You can count on me and then I just go do it. But I don’t ever communicate back that I did it, and at times, you know, especially leading up my CEO, he’ll be like, can you give me an update? And your leaders should really never have to ask you for an update on something you committed to. And so I like that idea about the Follow Up Friday or a system like that that allows you on a weekly basis to do that. The other thing I want to comment on before I kind of wrap up here is you talked about when times are good, people just kind of maybe kind of slack off on the accountability.

And when I was younger, during my tenure with John, I remember him saying a comment and he said, I don’t understand man, when times are good and the economy’s good, people want to go take a vacation. He’s like, now’s the time that you should be pushing even harder. Take a vacation when times aren’t good, when no one’s buying anything, when no one’s selling anything, when no one’s doing anything. And then if you want to slip on your accountability when it’s good, you’re probably not going to notice it, but why not pour the fuel on the fire right now? Why not put the gas pedal down a little bit harder when times are good and hold people accountable so that you can get more out of it? Cause it’s a whole lot easier to hold people accountable and to push people.

When I say push, I mean drive people for results around this when they see the rewards versus saying, are you kidding me? We’re going to spend another week doing this and we’re not going to see any results from it. That’s just a thought off the top of the head there. So, as we wrap up, the big thing is that we started off by saying, hey, let’s talk about personal and team accountability. It’s not a negative thing. The biggest thing I can encourage you with is if you really truly want clarity, accountability, and alignment with your team to be able to do that, you have to be able to connect with them. And I know it always leads back to a Level 2 thing for us, but it’s really the foundation. If you do that well, then you can easily have a very candid conversation, candid feedback and accountability, accountable conversation that won’t be awkward, that will be expected, and your people will trust you and you’ll trust them. And so my thing is listen, don’t come in and begin holding people accountable if you haven’t done the foundational work of building the connection, the trust first. Well, thank you, Chris, for all these great insights and just as a reminder, if you’d like to learn more about the Five Levels of Leadership, or even have a Five Levels Workshop and your organization, please go to the you can leave a comment for us. Leave us a question if you like. We’re very grateful to you for joining us.

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