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Empowerment and Accountability In Leadership

This week at The Leadership Coaches, we delve into empowerment and accountability in leadership.

Definition of Accountability

A ‘holding to account’ for measurable outcomes or targets against a set of criteria or indicators of success. Accountability is imposed externally and usually involves consequences for the individual and organisation. Individuals are answerable for their actions and decisions. Individuals are often held to account over a period of time or over the lifetime of a project, though certain actions or behaviours if inappropriate, may be held to account immediately.

Definition of Responsibility

This often refers to a role and scope of working for an individual. Responsibility is usually taken up freely by an individual and includes day-to-day operational duties. Being responsible may also include moral, legal, or mental responsibility to others and the organisation.

Disempowering Accountability

Disempowering accountability involves:

  • Criticism

  • Summative judgement only (pass/fail)

  • Micro-managing

  • Overuse of monitoring and tracking progress

  • Standards that are not achievable

  • Keeping people on the back foot

  • Too many deadlines that are often too short, used to exert control and sometimes come out of mistrust and/or fear by leaders

  • High-stakes for failure

Empowering and Accountability

Empowering Accountability involves learning and development at its core which leads to a desire for constant improvement. There is a coaching approach that asks powerful questions and puts listening central to understanding a person's decisions and actions. There is a clear focus on outcomes and results to produce agreed standards that inspire.

Judgement includes summative (have we achieved our objective or not) but mainly focuses on formative (adjustments/agility/constant improvement) and diagnostic (root cause analysis, deeper understanding of the business). The relationship is built on trust and open direct passionate debate. There is space to breathe, to develop, try things out, make mistakes and try different ways of working.

Empowerment and Accountability graphic

It is important that when holding people to account, that we use all three levels of accountability rather than focusing on only one area (such as individual accountability).

Questions for Accountability

Example Questions:

Level 1:

“Could you talk me through your work on this project and how it relates to the objectives?”

“Tell me more about what led to that decision”

“What did you notice about how that impacted on timescales?”

“What stopped you from taking that action sooner?”

“What have you learnt the most from managing this project so far?”

“What are you tolerating?”

“Talk me through the objectives and what has happened for each one”

“What would you do differently in the future?”

“What will make the biggest impact towards meeting the objectives?”

Level 2:

“In what ways do you feel you have been able to contribute to the team?”

“What have you done that has added to the success of the team?”

“In what ways may you have taken away from the success of the team?”

“If I were to ask your peer team members to describe you, what would they say?”

“Where are the relationships in the team most challenging? What could you do to improve trust in the team?”

“Tell me of a great success that was due to how you worked together with the team?”

“Which objectives did you support the team to achieve that was not your direct objective?”

Level 3:

“How does this align with the values of the organisation?”

“If the shareholder was sat here with us listening to our conversation, what do you think they would say?”

“Do we have a clear line of sight from this objective to the organisation’s objectives?”

“If the organisation had a voice what do you think it would say it needs from you/us?”

“If this was to appear in the press or on social media, what do you think would be the impact?"


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