The Lazy Leader’s Version of Accountability

Has someone you report to ever said to you, “I’m holding you accountable for so-and-so”? Or: “You’re going to be held accountable if X, Y, or Z doesn’t happen”?

How did that make you feel? Did it inspire you? Did it make you glad that you had picked such a great place to work and found such a great boss? Did it get your creative juices flowing?

Or did it make you feel stressed out, like you were under attack?  Did it provoke emotions of resentment, fear, or even anger that you were the one being “held accountable”–that accountability always seemed to be something used against you, and never anything that worked in your favor? Did hearing that kind of thing from your boss make you use up precious creative energy constructing ways to avoid or deflect the next attack from your boss, instead of finding ways to fulfill the company mission?

“I’m holding you accountable” is the lazy leader’s version of accountability.

People say this kind of thing to their direct reports because they think it makes them sound strong. It is actually the weakest, laziest form of leadership.

The laziness arises from the leader’s not bothering to find out why saying “I’m holding you accountable” always means leading from a position of weakness.

This approach to leadership is always weak for the simple reason that it does not inspire anyone. “I’m holding you accountable” is a hammer weak leaders use to manipulate people into doing what the leader wants done. It only occasionally results in short-term progress on tactical commitments, meaning things people put on their to-do list and then check off the list–like finishing a report. Tactical commitments connect to productivity, but they do not connect to accountability.

The “I’m holding you accountable” approach never results in stronger relational commitments–like “standing with you when all hell breaks loose,” “living the values,” and “my word is my bond.” These relational commitments are not short-term items people can knock off their to-do list and be done with. They need to happen all the time. And if you as the leader want your people to live them, you have to live them first.

That is the true challenge of leadership. The only way relational commitments can be fulfilled all the time, at all levels, as daily realities of the organization, is if the leader inspires people by demonstrating, with actions, not words, full personal accountability in supporting relationships. That means looking beyond tactical commitments, and being a role model by stepping up and being accountable first, on all of the critical relational commitments. It means living those commitments, no matter what, day in and day out. Some leaders are not willing to do that. They would rather pick up the hammer, for two bad reasons: because picking up the hammer is what they are used to doing, and because they think picking up the hammer makes them look strong. It does not. And force of habit is a terrible reason to keep doing something that does not work.

There is a far better way to win accountability from the members of your team than picking up the hammer, but some leaders are too lazy to put it into practice. Don’t be one of them! Look beyond the tactical commitments. Help them be accountable. Give them the tools they need. Then keep the relational commitments strong, and be accountable to your people first. This will inspire them to want to be accountable–by keeping those same relational commitments back to you.

A great way to get started on improving your relational commitments with your team is to take the free personal accountability assessment you will find at This will help you identify your accountability strong suits, and also help you to get more clarity about those areas where there is room for improvement.

Don’t be a lazy leader! Do this today!


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