Leaders are under a microscope, whether they realize it or not. Indeed, many followers will not necessarily realize that they pay as much attention as they do to their leader’s actions. A leader’s conduct, as much as their words, can communicate what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. In a not so subtle example, if a captain tells the crew not to drink and drive, but is later seen doing exactly that, then the captain is actually conveying that it’s okay to drink and drive, despite what is said.
When challenged with crew who are not performing to expectations or who are displaying unacceptable behavior, a good place to start is by looking inward. With self-examination, we can discover if we’re sending the wrong signals by acting in a way that may be contradictory to the standards that we think we’ve set.
Fundamental to leadership, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, either personally or by people we’re responsible for. This means being answerable for the consequences, however they may turn out. If we recognize that we haven’t been walking the talk, then we must hold ourselves accountable for negatively influencing the behavior of others.
If we discover that we are the problem, then we can begin to remedy the situation by first taking responsibility for not following our own rules. Next, it’s important to reconfirm with everyone what the standards of behavior really are. And then we must work at all times to insure that what we do isn’t contradictory to what we say.
The role of a leader includes setting an example, whether we do it consciously or not. If a leader lies, cheats or steals, then that behavior over time can become common and expected by followers. It can also become acceptable in the mind of crew members to do those things themselves. Conversely, behaving with honesty and integrity, and displaying accountability and responsibility, will also influence how crew members behave.
I meet many up-and-coming crew who have goals of moving into a leadership position. Many believe that being the leader means being able to do whatever they want. I challenge those individuals to ask themselves if they are prepared to accept the level of accountability that goes hand-in-hand with being a leader. Are they ready to be responsible for not only their own actions but for the actions of their entire team? Are they willing to take ownership of their work, as well as the work of others, and face the consequences that come with success or failure?
As a leader, there’s no part-time accountability. If you accept a leadership role, then you’re accountable. It’s like being pregnant: Either you are or you aren’t. Sometimes, avoiding accountability can come from a fear of being wrong or looking foolish. Genuine leaders won’t let that fear hold them back from doing what needs to be done.
Here are five ways to help build accountability as a leader:
- Set clear expectations. Establish concise goals, responsibilities and consequences of action or inaction – and do it early.
- Encourage autonomy. Give as much freedom as possible for crew members to do their job. Of course, this can only happen after they’ve been given appropriate training, demonstrated their skill and performed to the necessary level.
- Give as much support as possible to the crew members — give a hand or answer questions. Over time this will be less and less necessary.
- Give as much information as is appropriate. Don’t leave anyone in the dark. If something will help the crew do their job better, tell them. They will be more willing to admit to mistakes if they know the whole story.
- Provide resources – money, tools and training. If the necessary resources have been made available, blame for a poorly executed job will be more difficult to pass on to someone else.
Part of a leader’s role is to help develop accountability in others. When crew see their leader making an effort to be accountable, it will encourage them to be accountable too.
A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group (www.marineleadershipgroup.com). Comments are welcome at email@example.com.