Leadership is ordinary people doing things which other ordinary people follow. One of the characteristics that most people will readily follow is the taking of accountability. I do not mean the sham accountability taken by uttering the words, “I’m accountable” and then firing other people after much has gone wrong.
I mean the accountability that starts at the beginning, by getting involved in the decision making process. By getting involved in the monitoring process to see what are the consequences of decisions. By getting involved in the process to review the impact of decisions; being able to say, “I got it wrong” when it patently is so.
Not everybody is in a position to participate in big decisions where the accountability is quite public. However, everybody is in a position to take accountability for their personal actions. Most people are in a position to take accountability for their actions related to work tasks.
If we are not used to taking accountability, we can start with the smallest of things. For example, taking accountability for arriving on time for a meeting whether it is personal or work related.
Taking accountability for arriving on time means that independent of the circumstances such as traffic, other meetings or the weather, we arrive on time.
To arrive on time may mean planning other meetings with a half hour leeway to allow for meetings over- running or heavy traffic. It may mean calling the end to a meeting which is over-running and re-scheduling a time to complete it.
It may mean coming back that evening or on the weekend to complete the meeting. For example, if we have in addition to taking accountability to arrive on time at meetings, decided to take accountability for the outcome of our first meeting which threatened to make us late for the second meeting.
If we can master taking accountability to arrive on time for meetings we will already stand out in most organisations as being personally disciplined.
Another step in taking accountability would be for us to take on the completion of a task that has been discussed often but not completed. In all organisations incomplete tasks are common. For us to find a small task that requires someone taking accountability to complete is not difficult.
Setting ourselves a date for completion and working backwards to today’s date in planning what needs to be done to complete the task is a good first step. Taking accountability to marshal the resources beyond our own efforts will see the task complete if we are persistent and insistent.
In completing the task, we may need to make personal sacrifices of our own time in order to meet our target date. Unfortunately, that is often the case with leaders as leading is a 24×7 occupation.
In completing such small tasks we will do two things. Firstly, we will learn a lot about our own ability to plan tasks and organise people. Secondly, we will get a reputation as being a “Completer Finisher” in BELBIN terminology. Our reputation for taking accountability will grow.
When our reputation for taking accountability grows we will be looked to for tasks which need to be done. We will be given more resources more freely because we are seen to be one who is accountable by our actions for their use. We will complete more than we would have before we started to take accountability.
We will learn to be open, to get the most out of other people. We will learn to be careful about setting deadlines and fastidious about keeping them. We will learn how to communicate in many different ways to avoid misinterpretation. We will learn how to question and how to listen well.
Soon we will have followers. People will be willing to work with us and for us because we get things done. In taking this journey of taking accountability for ever more increasingly important things we will learn a lot about ourselves, about making decisions about the right things and about influencing others.
We will, by any definition, be a leader.