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  • Writer's pictureJayne McQuillan

Leadership: The Buck Stops Here!

Updated: Jan 8, 2019

Journey Consulting Green Bay WI Business Consultant

When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.

- David Brin

Why is it that leadership accountability is lacking in your organization?  As Brin states, accountability requires honesty, ownership, and openness to feedback.  Leaders at the top of an organization set the culture of accountability.  President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk that read:  "The Buck Stops Here."  It meant that he accepted accountability for all the decisions of his administration.  This leadership stance exists in organizations today but, unfortunately, as the exception rather than the rule. 

Without accountability, even the most brilliant, hard-working, well-intentioned leaders fail - they fail to meet their performance goals, they fail to develop their teams, they fail to hire top talent, they fail to coach their employees, they fail to communicate clearly, they fail to optimize performance, and they fail the business overall. Effective leadership requires real accountability.

So what is real accountability?  When leaders take personal accountability, they are willing to answer for the outcomes of their choices, their behaviors, and their actions in all situations in which they are involved.  Accountable leaders do not blame others when things don't go well.  Rather, they make things right.  They fix it.  Accountable leaders build an accurate understanding of their organization, knowing where it excels and where it has opportunity for improvement.  Accountable leaders step up to champion opportunities to succeed.  Accountable leaders question the decisions and processes that shape their organization.  They ask questions and they find answers.


Accountability goes beyond individual actions and decisions.  Accountable leaders assume ownership for the performance of their teams, just like Truman assumed accountability for the performance of his administration.  An accountable leader takes responsibility, and although this is frightening, until you take responsibility, you are nothing more than a martyr.  And martyr's are not leaders.

So what can you do to become more accountable?

  1. Be Honest.  Often this requires setting aside personal pride, admitting your own mistakes, and being completely honest with yourself.  Honest leaders become accountable by reviewing their own role in a situation and devising a reasonable solution to resolve issues, conflict, and challenges in an authentic and genuine fashion.

  2. Say "I'm sorry."  When something has gone awry and you are responsible for the wrongdoing, apologize.  The focus is on making amends, committing to what needs to be done to fix the situation, and executing on it when promised.  By apologizing and creating a plan to fix the situation, accountable leaders allow a focus on the end goal rather than on the problem.

  3. Seek input from others.  Look to bosses, peers, direct reports, friends, and partners about how something that didn't go so well could have gone better.  Accountable leaders look for ways to do things differently in the future.  They seek opportunities to initiate change when the change instigates improved ways of handling situations, making decisions, and developing talent.

  4. Don't avoid responsibility.  Accountable leaders do not avoid responsibility, they do not procrastinate, and they do not under or over commit.  They know when to say no and they know when to ask for more.  Before agreeing to new tasks, new deliverables, new to-do's, they review their schedules and know whether they have the physical time required to complete the work on time and with quality.  If unsure about whether they can commit, they say no to the task and yes to the person asking for the commitment.  In this way, accountable leaders provide their own insurance that they won't let promised work go undone.

Accountability makes a business difference.  It builds trust within teams, creates respect between leaders and employees, and promotes a sense of fairness that is essential to an engaged workforce.  Accountability is about the near-wins, not the wins.  Accountability is the striving and the reaching, the journey, the promise of getting there, and the perpetual self-refinement.  Accountability is about a leader's overall commitment to excellence and elevating his/her game.  That is the mark of a true leader. 

Accountability is exactly why leadership is so tough and exactly whey there are so few real leaders.

Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action-takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily actions. 

- John DiLemme

@brandonhallgrp. "The Buck Stops Here: A Culture of Accountability Drives Effective Leadership - Brandon Hall Group." Brandon Hall Group. N.p., 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2016.  

Jayne McQuillan, CPA, MBA, CEPA is a strategic management consultant, and the owner of Journey Consulting, LLC, in Green Bay

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