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The Power and Opportunity of Accountable Leadership

Leadership apart from personal accountability is detached superiority.

Lack of personal accountability on the part of leaders results in isolation, artificial interactions, and shallow relationships.

Leaders who stand aloof from personal accountability:

  1. Lean toward authoritarian exclusivity.
  2. Practice hypocrisy, if they expect others to be accountable to them.
  3. Exude arrogance.
  4. Stay isolated and detached. Accountability is essential to authentic relationships. Lack of accountability produces leadership loneliness.

When leaders stand aloof from personal accountability, the people around them play along. Fear of pointing out the emperor’s nakedness silences dissent and prolongs vulnerability.

Blame is the tool of choice when accountability is lacking.

Accountability and owning mistakes:

The first sign of accountability in leadership is owning mistakes. Some of the most powerful things leaders say include:

  1. I was wrong.
  2. I made a mistake.
  3. I screwed up.

Warning: It’s a mistake to make excuses for making mistakes. Never use mistake-making as an excuse to keep making the same mistakes.

6 benefits of owning mistakes:

  1. Respect. It’s difficult to respect fakers.
  2. Connection. We’re drawn to people who fail and try again with optimism. Owning mistakes is an invitation to authentic relationships.
  3. Energy. Think of all the energy wasted on self-protective posturing.
  4. Learning. You must own your mistakes in order to get the most learning from them. Blaming keeps you ignorant and aloof. The tragedy of mistake-making isn’t that responsible mistakes happen. The tragedy is not learning.
  5. Innovation. Creativity and innovation is moving from one mistake to the next. Success is the end of innovation.
  6. Strong teams. If you want people to be accountable to each other, be accountable to them. The most profound accountability is accountability to our peers, not our leaders.

4 ways to practice accountability:

#1. Make yourself accountable.

Forced accountability only works if someone has power and authority to punish or reward. Real accountability is freely embraced.

  1. Reward constructive dissent.
  2. Find someone who tells you the truth. Perhaps you will need to look outside your organization.
  3. Ask your teams to evaluate your performance.
  4. Engage in a transparent 360-degree assessment.

#2. Seek feedback.

  1. Ask specific questions about your performance.
  2. Seek input on how you make others feel when you’re in the room.
  3. Explain your goals and intentions. Ask how you might better achieve your goals.
  4. Thank people when they give you feedback. The first response to feedback is always the same, even if you disagree: “Thank you.”

#3. Practice self-reflection.

  1. How are you practicing vulnerability, transparency, and candor? Specifically?
  2. How are you addressing the temptation to blame rather than take responsibility?
  3. Where do you see patterns of frustration and failure?
  4. How are you becoming the future leader you aspire to be?
  5. What does your best self suggest your next steps might be?

#4. Own mistakes.

  1. Tell stories of lessons learned from mistakes. “I remember when …”
  2. Apologize. Practice saying, “Please forgive me. I was wrong.” (You might need to say that out loud and in private a few times.)
  3. Use data to track your performance. When you fall short, own the numbers.
  4. Explain what you plan to do to improve your performance.


What does accountable leadership look like?

How might leaders own their mistakes?


dan-rockwellDan Rockwell’s leadership career began with a leadership position in the non-profit world at the age of 19. His experience, over 35 years, includes business ownership and 15 years as a Workforce Development Consultant for a regional Pennsylvania State University Special Affiliate.

Dan began writing the highly recognized Leadership Freak blog in January of 2010. Today, Leadership Freak is read in virtually every country on the globe and was recognized as the most socially-shared leadership blog of 2012.

Dan holds degrees in Theology, Construction and Design, and a Master’s in Business Administration.

Currently, Dan delivers keynotes, workshops, and coaches leaders.

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