Leadership in any form can be dangerous. There are countless ways things can go wrong, and the higher a leader is in the organization, the more is at stake. Issues at an entry-level position will rarely have the same level of negative impact as issues at a senior level of leadership. What does that mean? Accountability in leadership is a necessity. Leaders need to have systems and relationships that allow for honest insight, feedback, and difficult conversations.
I believe that one of the firmest growth caps has nothing to do with any particular market, but has everything to do with a leader’s ability to submit to the right forms of accountability.
But what is accountability? Accountability, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is being accountable. Obviously, that’s not helpful…but being accountable means, “subject to giving an account.”
Ultimately, having accountability for a leader means there is no such thing as a decision that can be made that’s immune to challenge or pushback.
Not all challenges are helpful, and not all pushback is healthy. Needing accountability doesn’t mean that anyone at any level can throw the brakes on a decision process. It does mean, however, that no decision gets to be made void of any additional questions.
THE DANGER OF NO ACCOUNTABILITY
Too often, I’ve seen leaders in and out of the ministry safe suffer when accountability is not adequately in place. Without accountability measures, a leader is vulnerable to moral failure, poor decision making, the temptation of “ultimate power,” and countless other issues.
There are a sickening number of examples related to ministry authority and moral failures. Some of these situations have impacted churches I’ve attended in the past, pastors I’ve known for years, and people I looked up to at different points in life.
One leader in particular, whose name I won’t mention, had an incredibly influential ministry. It came out that he had been recording people in their home bathrooms, as well as a few other nefarious things, and is still in prison last I have checked. Without accountability in leadership, moral failures grow more and more likely.
I would offer this side note for those of you reading this with a ministry context or filter. I believe the more established your ministry, the more you need accountability. Please, for the sake of Jesus and the sake of His Bride, do not neglect accountability in your life.
Not only does it lead toward moral traps, but a lack of accountability can also build a false sense of power. When there is no accountability, there is never a challenge to a decision. When there is no challenge to a decision, it’s easy to feel like there are no faults to the decision or the logic leading up to that.
The thought of a “challengeless” leadership should terrify you.
“Leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing significant to say.”
If we ever put ourselves in a position as a leader to use our power and authority to crowd out any contrarian’s voice, we are putting ourselves in an extremely volatile situation in which our competency becomes the inevitable downfall of our organization (looking at you, White House).
REQUIREMENTS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY
Accountability requires three key elements: honesty, trust, and vulnerability.
Accountability will only help as much as you will be honest. I tell students this all the time. They come to me, confessing certain addictions or struggles, and asking for accountability. I tell them it will only work to the extent that you’ll be honest.
For example, if a student is struggling with an addiction to pornography, I can ask them all week long about their struggle. But if they won’t be honest with me, the accountability doesn’t exist. I cannot hold them accountable for something they do not want to be held accountable for.
Even with the best of systems, there is always a workaround. If you are set on a result, and accountability is in place to prevent that, you will find a way to get what you want…whether that’s accountability and health or not.
You have to be able to trust the people holding you accountable. If you are afraid they will use the information as leverage, if you are afraid they don’t have your best interest at heart, or if you are afraid they won’t do what’s best for you, you have no push to be honest.
Trust has to be present to establish a foundation of accountability. As soon as it crumbles, the accountability vanishes.
The ability to and capacity to be authentic, transparent, and honest…even when it hurts. This is close to the others, but a necessary element on its own. For accountability to be truly effective, the person being held accountable has to offer every aspect for inspection.
If you’re wanting accountability at work, you can’t say, “I need you to hold me accountable for how I’m using my time here…except on Tuesdays.” If you’re wanting to be held accountable for specific times, great. But you can’t rule out Tuesdays and pretend you’re accountable for your time as a whole.
You have to be vulnerable. You have to be open. You have to trust that the person/persons involved have your best interests at heart.
METHODS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY
There are a lot of ways to establish accountability, but here are three practical ways to implement it.
A group of people who have permission to see and ask anything. Usually, a board would be made of older and/or wiser leaders who you trust to know you, know your context, and give wise counsel.
Our church operates as an “elder-led church.” What does that mean? We don’t have a lead pastor or a senior pastor. We have a team of three teaching pastors. Over the three teaching pastors, we have an elder board.
As it pertains to organizational leadership, the three teaching pastors make the final decisions and have the most authority. However, they don’t lead without authority over them and accountability built-in. The elders do their reviews, the elders make high-level decisions, and the elders hold our teaching pastors accountable.
Another example of a board would be a friend of mine named Brandon. Brandon spent about a decade speaking all over the world at youth events. In his early years, he put together a board to, among other things, keep him accountable. They helped navigate what speaking inquiries he took, they helped encourage him, and the helped to make sure he was staying healthy (not just physically).
If you don’t have accountability, a board could be a great first step. Find some leaders you trust, walk them through the areas you need to be accountable, and let them know (as a group) that they have permission to step into your life and ask hard questions.
Do you have a leader in your life that’s more experienced? Someone you already go to with questions or hard decisions?
That person could be in a great position to step into an accountability relationship. They already know your wiring, your context, and the nuances of your situation. Asking them to hold you accountable for certain areas of your life or leadership may be a natural “next step” in allowing them to mentor and coach you.
In many ways, this is the easiest one. You’re not making yourself vulnerable to a group, you’re not making yourself more vulnerable to someone you look up to, you’re simply bringing in someone at your level and asking them to help you improve.
In a healthy work environment, this should be met with open arms. I would love the idea of a work colleague coming to me and asking for me to hold them accountable to how they lead their family, or how they steward their time, or how they develop their team.
Who is it that you know who has great instincts and that you get along with? Maybe you reach out to them and ask if they’d be willing to hold you accountable!
ACCOUNTABLE FOR WHAT?
Just in case you’re still reading, but asking yourself, “Okay, I’m in, but what do I need accountability in?” I wanted to offer you a few areas you could ask other leaders to hold you accountable. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some options.
How am I using my time at work?
How am I investing my time at lunch?
How am I guarding my relationship with my spouse?
How am I pursuing my spouse or significant other?
How am I developing my team?
How am I guarding time with my family?
How am I building healthy rhythms?
How am I making sure I don’t waste too much time on my phone?
How am I investing time in my spiritual health?
How am I developing healthy eating patterns?
How am I getting traction toward my goals?
How am I saving each week?
How am I breaking this habit?
Ultimately, here is how you discover what you need someone to hold you accountable for, regarless of situation. It is usually an answer to (or a combination of) one of these questions.
What do you want to accomplish?
What do you want to stop?
What do you want to prioritize?
What do you want to change?
If you can answer any of those questions, you won’t even need the suggestions above.
Hopefully, those give you an idea of where to start. I want you to keep getting better as a leader, but that has to be a team effort. You cannot win alone.