The Advancing Leadership Blog

The True Quality of a Great Leader: Accountability

There are a lot of qualities that make a leader great: Charisma, determination, creative thinking, and a quick mind. But above these is accountability. A leader is truly great when they are accountable to their customers and to their employees. A leader is truly inspiring when they lead by example.

So here is a word of advice: take a look at your leadership strategy, your values as a leader and consider if you are a leader of accountability. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you deal with these mistakes that shows your true colours.

So if you aren’t the most accountable, not to worry. Simply acknowledge the following actions, and consider incorporating them into your leadership strategy.

Set an Example

 This is, by far, the best way to lead. No wonder it’s an over used cliché! Here’s the best way to go about doing it:

  1. Set up the criteria for what you expect out of your employees: behavioral codes, customer interactions, employee relations, accountability, and even dress code.
  2. Hold yourself and your managers up to each criterion. It’s important that you are never the exception to the rule. This builds trust and respect, both for you as a leader and for the criterion you’ve set.
  3. Encourage discussion and feedback. Often, your team won’t understand much of the reasoning behind your criterion until you discuss it with them.
  4. If you mess up, or your team messes up due to a directional or strategic issue, take responsibility. If someone on your team messes up, encourage him or her to take responsibility. Never punish people for their honesty. Create a culture that rewards accountability.

Acknowledge Failures

The greatest trial of an accountable leader is how they handle failures, especially their own. A leader’s job is to be the head of direction and strategy, it’s their job to understand the economic and social climate their business operates in, and it’s their job to know their team and their customers.

Many times a failure, whether small or large is the fault of leadership. Whether they didn’t provide enough direction, didn’t discuss their company values in enough detail, or didn’t bother to listen to their team or customers, a leader needs to step up to the plate.

It’s important to acknowledge the issue(s) at hand, and to discuss it with your team. Ask if they had enough direction, and if leadership was attentive enough. Reward honesty. It’s important to take the blame, if necessary, but not to take the blame on things that aren’t your fault.

A company’s culture that values accountability should have the responsible parties come forward. Hiding behind your team is just as unacceptable as a team hiding behind their leadership.

Learn (Accept Feedback)

Look at the decisions you made that brought you to head with this challenge.

Is it a fault with direction, or strategy? If so, you may need to reconsider your company’s future plans.

Is it a fault with communication? If so, create workshops or “town hall” meetings to improve it.

Perhaps it was a fault with your customer service? If so, redefine appropriate etiquette and important goals in reference to your customer service base.

After you’ve begun to learn from your mistake, open up the lines of communication and welcome feedback. Often your team will understand the issues that led to the mistake being made. They’ll have seen the mistake in action. Many times the “front lines” of your business have some excellent insight into important situations.


Finally, it is critical to amend the mistake. Pretty obvious, I know, but it has to be said.

When leadership has invested a lot of time and money into a certain strategic direction it can be gruelling to go back to the drawing board, but it has to be done.

The good news is that with your new culture of accountability, mistakes will be found quicker and issues will resolve themselves faster.

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