How Real Leaders Demonstrate Accountability

Everyone wants to be a leader. However, few are prepared to accept the accountability that goes with it. But you can’t have one without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

President Harry Truman, “The Buck Stops Here”

President Harry Truman, “The Buck Stops Here”

But what does accountability look like?

First and foremost, it means that you accept responsibility for the outcomes expected of you—both good and bad. You don’t blame others. And you don’t blame the external environment. There are always things you could have done—or still can do—to change the outcome.

Until you take responsibility, you are a victim. And being a victim is the exact opposite of being a leader.

Victims are passive. They are acted upon. Leaders are active. They take initiative to influence the outcome.

When I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson, we held a meeting once a month with our divisional leaders. We required each of them to write a report, detailing what happened the previous month.

They submitted their reports to my Executive Leadership Team. Then we meet with each leader face-to-face to discuss his or her operating results.

These reports provided a summary of what happened and a review of the key metrics that drove the business. We also asked each division head to describe how their leadership succeeded or failed.

We asked, “What was it about your leadership that produced these results?” The underlying assumption was that it is all about their leadership. We did not allow them to blame anyone internally or externally.

I remember one month when Allen Arnold did a particularly good job of this in his report. I have asked his permission to include it here, because I believe it serves as a great model for others.

By way of background, Allen leads the Thomas Nelson Fiction division. He started this division several years ago and has done a great job leading it to it’s current level of success.

But even great leaders, like Allen, have bad months. But when they do, they take full responsibility for it. (I have bracketed out sensitive, proprietary information.)

As Publisher, I take full ownership of failing to hit October’s Target. I also take full responsibility to lead the turnaround to overcome the shortfall. The operating results reflect my leadership decisions, including some key factors below:

  1. I made the decision to release [Novel A] in the last month of the fiscal year. As a result, we had all the revenue in our last fiscal year and all the returns in this fiscal year. I must be smarter about this in the future.

    Starting with the Fiscal 09 Plan, I’m moving my major [Author A] release from March to April, which means we’ll start our year with a bang. It also allows for revenue and returns for our top titles to occur in the same year from here forward.

  2. I depended heavily on movie tie-ins for major revenue yet had no control over the timing of the movie release. [Novel B], [Novel C], and [Novel D] movies were all set for Summer / Fall 2008 releases, yet the studios delayed all three with no new release dates set.

    I’ve learned not to lock in firm revenue projections based on movies I have no control over. While novelizations can be profitable, I will no longer include titles tied to movies on the Fiction Title Plan. They will drop-in only when the movie release schedule is 100% firm. Lesson learned.

  3. I overestimated how easy it would be to sell-in our new line of [Category E] novels. It is still early in our move into this category, but initial sell-in is lower than I anticipated.

    I remain convinced of the viability and strategic wisdom of the investment we’re making; it is simply a matter of building traction with sales, retailers, and consumers. My team and I have now stepped up and are doing more to drive [Category E] sell-in—and sell-through.

  4. I haven’t acquired enough [certain type of authors]. I’m committed to providing novels that satisfy this felt need in the marketplace. It is a successful genre and other publishers have had good success with it.

    However, I should have moved on this sooner since the time from acquisition to finished product is often well over a year. But I am now on track to recover the lost ground.

  5. I need to create a better balanced revenue plan. As is apparent this November (with only one title releasing), the lack of major, revenue-driving products in every month is having a negative impact. I won’t let this happen again.

Notice several items in Allen’s comments:

  1. They all make heavy use of the pronoun “I.” Allen didn’t hide behind his team (e.g., “we didn’t do such and such”) or blame others (e.g., “they didn’t do such and such.”).
  2. He is specific about the decisions he made and the results he achieved. He understands that the two are linked. Smart leaders get this. It is fundamental to driving change.
  3. He didn’t wallow in remorse or self-pity. He simply accepts responsibility for his mistakes, learns what he can, and pledges to do better.
  4. He took actions to correct the problem. This is the great thing about responsibility. Once you own it, you can begin fixing it. This eliminates a lot of wasted effort in playing the victim and blaming others.

It is also important for leaders to take responsibility for the good results they produce. When a leader exceeds his target, there is much he can learn, too. And in this meetings, we also took the time to reinforce these actions, so they would continue.

The bottom line is that no organization can grow and prosper until the leaders are willing to step up and take responsibility. As that begins to happen, it opens up a whole world of possibility.

Question: Does your organization hold leaders accountable? What effect does this have on the results? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Jon Stolpe

    I believe that my organization does hold it’s leaders accountable.  We’re obviously accountable to meeting the targets laid out by the company.  Our compensation is directly tied to these targets.  This certainly provides clear accountability.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s encouraging. Organizations that do this out-perform those that don’t. Thanks.

      • Jon Stolpe

        We’re the leader in our industry.  Our leaders have been challenged to stay on top – and to keep growing.  I’m sure the accountability has helped to push this mindset.

  • Steve Martin

    Give praise and gratitude to others, and don’t hesitate to take the blame.

    • Justin Wise

      Or, as my wife likes to say, praise publicly and correct privately. Love that!

  • Dave Anderson

    As 18 year old freshman at West Point, we had three acceptable responses to upper class cadets:  
    1. Yes sir.
    2. No sir.
    3. No excuse sir.

    The hardest thing was to break the habit of making excuses.  It is ingrained in us.  But in the military, if your company was on the wrong hill and that hill was targeted by friendly artillery, men would die.

    Do the mother’s of those men care that your executive officer circled the wrong hill?  As the leader, you were responsible for those men.  There is no excuse.

    You train new habits of character by starting with the small things.  Stop making excuses for being late because of traffic.  You should have left the house earlier.  Just say it is my fault.  Ask for forgiveness. And do better next time.

    It is a cleansing feeling to eliminate excuses from your regular life.

    • Kari Scare

      We are working on eliminating excuses with our youngest son. He’s an expert at it, but we are simply not tolerating excuses. I think I’ll tell him this military example to hopefully get him to see how important “No excuses” can be.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for this example, Dave. Excellent!

    • Justin Wise

      Woooooow, Dave. I got convicted just reading this comment. 

    • Jim Martin

      Dave, what a great comment!  I’m glad to read your words today.

    • TNeal

      You talked about “being late because of traffic.” Walt Garrison in “Once A Cowboy” shared a similar thought about Tom Landry’s standards. When several players were late to a team meeting due to an accident on the freeway, Landry said they needed to plan for emergencies. Don’t be late. No excuses.

      I went through basic training in the summer of 1974, a time when drill sergeants had combat experience earned in Vietnam. I remember the clear sense of purpose each one had in making us soldiers. They knew our lives depended on their instructions.

      Good points, Dave. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      • Travis Dommert

        A somewhat related Landry favorite: “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order for them to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” I think he was accountable for his role!

        • TNeal

           That’s an excellent quote. I’m an unabashed Cowboy fan (when they’re winning) and enjoy reading or hearing about Landry and his philosophy of coaching.

    • Tim Peters

      Wow. I like the the three acceptable responses.  

    • Michele Cushatt

       Wow. Convicting. Thank you, Dave.

  • Rob Sorbo

    As a 27 year old who someday wants to be in leadership, you’re scaring me! It sounds like I’ve got some tough lessons to learn.

    • Michael Hyatt

      This is a great way to distinguish yourself as a young leader. I will take a young leader who is accountable any time over one who is more experienced but doesn’t embrace accountability.

      • Rob Sorbo

        Thanks for the tip. I do think I’m good at accountability, but I know that I can make excuses sometimes. I will keep working on this as a growth area.

    • Justin Wise

      Hey Rob … I think Michael’s spot-on with his comment. If you take this responsibility on yourself now, you’ll be light years ahead of your peers who don’t.

      Responsibility is scary, no matter what way you slice it. Avoiding it is scary, and taking it on is scary. The difference is that taking responsibility removes the possibility of someone forcing it on you :)

      Don’t sweat. You’ll make mistakes. Then bigger ones. And you’ll learn. Go get ‘em!

      • Rob Sorbo

        Thanks for the encouragement Justin. 

        I don’t like mistakes, but I tend to be good at learning from them.

    • TNeal

       Embrace the tough lessons. That’s where wisdom resides. Learning the art of correction rather than deflection (it wasn’t my fault) will make you a person worth following.

      • Rob Sorbo

        Tough, but true. I am good at correction, but I’m also great at deflection.

  • Scott Wimberly

    Very, very, very good read. Seems like accountability is rare today. Thanks for doing what you are doing. Great job!

  • Kari Scare

    Sometimes they are held accountable and sometimes they are not. There needs to be more consistency. On a personal level, I need to be better at accepting responsibility for the good that happens too. I’m great at taking on the bad stuff, but I’m out of balance by not looking at what I did to make the good stuff happen. That balance is important for success.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I agree. Some leaders have a hard time taking responsibility for the good. But you must do both. Thanks.

      • Kari Scare

        I am realizing the difference between taking responsibility and taking credit. When my actions produce certain results, that is where responsibility happens. But, my ability to carry out those actions and to have the wisdom to choose them comes from God, that is where the credit goes. So, God gives me the ability to make choices for which I must take responsibility.

        • Michele Cushatt

           Good distinction, Kari. Thanks.

  • John Richardson

    Over the years, working for different organizations, I’ve met people who I thought would be good leaders. They had great ideas, were very organized, and fit the mold well. The only thing they lacked was accountability. They didn’t want the responsibility of the leadership position.

    These same people would get mad when they didn’t get promotions, blaming others for their woes.

    I really like your examples, Michael. When you can’t blame others and must take a 100% responsibility, leadership happens. Can you imagine if our politicians and business leaders were held to such high standards.

    Accountability is why leadership is so tough and why there as so few real leaders.

    It’s easy to blame, it’s not so easy to take responsibility.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Boy, and politicians are the WORST. None of them want to be accountable. Washington has created such a culture of blame. I’d love to see just one of them take responsibility and be accountable. It would be awesome. Thanks, John.

  • Patricia Zell

    Accountability is not just a leadership principle; accountability is a life principle and is one action that makes all the difference in our relationships with God. What Christ accomplished on the cross gives us the right and ability to become sons of God, and we can manifest our calling by becoming accountable in our prayer closets. By applying the concepts you have shared to how we interact with God, we give Him the opportunity to give us the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom we need to let go of victimization and to embrace our positions as overcomers. Over the years, I have learned to monitor my thoughts and actions with God as I walk along and to correct misconcepts and misactions. My accountability to God spills over into every aspect of my life and I am expecting all of those great possibilities to open up. Thanks, Michael, for your words of wisdom.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You’re right, Patricia, about accountability being a life principle. It’s something that is really important to teach our children.

      • Patricia Zell

        And, you are right, Michael. We worked hard to help our children understand the importance of taking responsibility and of not blaming others.

  • Michael E. K.

    Thank you for sharing the ideas; accountability drives us to new places.


    • Justin Wise

      Hopefully they’re all good places, right? ;)

  • John Saddington

    wow. this is a great reminder. sheesh. retweeting!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, John. I appreciate that.

  • Dennis

    Thank you for a thought provoking post. As Christians how do we align this accountability with what is often taught today? When things go good we are told to give all credit to God which would seem to keep a leader from taking any credit for the good things. Like wise when things do not go as planned the answer is often that it was not God’s will. I admit at times I have wondered if I use this to blame God for my own failures. Where is the line between God saying no and my not delivering?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Personally, I think this is a false piety and a wall people hide behind. We can take responsibility for good things while giving full credit to God. Conversely, we can take full responsibility for bad things while not blaming God. This seems to me to be the biblical model. Thanks.

    • Patricia Zell

      I think we might need to adjust our concept of God’s will. As you say, many times we mark our “failures” as not being God’s will. I have learned over the years to ask God for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom before I pray for anything. There is so much deception in our world that sometimes we have to work things out with God before we can pray effectively. And, then, whenever things don’t set right with me, I ask God to work everything out for the good of everyone involved. I’ve learned that God’s will is that I intentionally love Him with everything I have and that I intentionally love my neighbor as I love myself–when we do these things, everything else will fall into place.

      • Dennis

         Thank you Michael and Patricia for your responses. You have given me a lot to think about and helped me see I need to examine some of my own views of the nature of God.

  • J Herb

    This is a great post, thanks so much! And thanks to Allen for allowing you to share this with the world. I think I struggle to take responsibility as I am scared that others will reject me when I get it wrong. The irony is, that NOT taking responsibility IS getting it wrong, but somehow, in the moment, my head doesn’t believe that.

    Michael, would you also be able to share an example of someone taking responsibility/credit for the good that has been achieved. I’m not sure I have seen many examples of this modelled well. I’ve mostly seen the falsely humble, ‘oh it wasn’t me..’ or ‘yes, I am so brilliant that everyone would be lost without me..’ approaches… 

    Thanks again…

    • Michael Hyatt

      The best way I have seen this modeled is the leader who simply says, “thank you,” when he receives a compliment. He doesn’t try to deflect it or brush it of but accepts it. Think of tossing someone a ball. The real leader doesn’t ignore it. He doesn’t deflect it or knock it down. He catches it and then throws it back.

      • J Herb

        Thanks, that’s helpful for when you are responding to people’s comments. I am in a role where I report monthly what I do and as it’s a relational role, we tell a lot of stories to demonstrate what we do. It’s so helpful to see an example of a well written ‘I did this wrong and will learn by…’ report, but how do I say ‘I did this xyz well and this happened as a result of my good actions.’? As surely you do what to give others in your team credit as well?

        • Michael Hyatt

          In that kind of report, I would use “I” when reporting the bad but “We” when reporting the good. As in, “our team accomplished such and such.” In our meetings, we also required the leaders to distill the learnings from the things that went right as well. Unfortunately, I no longer have an example on my computer. Thanks.

          • Tim Peters

            Very helpful. 

      • Jim Martin

        This is helpful, Michael.  (I like the image of tossing someone a ball.)

      • Michele Cushatt

        Yes! Working on that one … It’s crazy how hard it can be to just say “Thank you.”

  • Lisa Alessi

    Michael — I love your blog.  I’ve been reading it for a few months now and really appreciate your insights on intentional leadership.  It’s thought provoking and inspiring.  

    This post got me thinking about aspiring leaders.  While I believe truly great leaders take full accountability for their decisions and direction, I agree with Rob’s comment — it’s a little scary for many leaders to fully own this level of accountability and analysis of weaknesses without a high degree of self awareness, appreciation and acceptance for who they are on the whole.  

    Without that awareness, one could easily fall into a pattern of self blame which is not the point of your article of course but a pattern that holds back emerging leaders from truly embracing their abilities to lead as they are testing the waters and still learning.  

    • Tim Peters

      Lisa –
      Thanks. Glad you enjoy the blog.  I completely agree on the need to be good at self awareness.

  • Blair Howell

    Valuable insight here Michael.  I never really thought about doing a monthly review of the previous month.  This is a great idea and something that I can put in place in my own life right away.  I do a 6 month and yearly right now.

    Great use of the word ‘I”.  Reminds me of a great book I read by Larry Donnithorne called The West Point Way of Leadership.

    • Tim Peters

      Blair – I am adding this practice to my schedule as well.  

      Let me know what you think of book.  Sounds interesting. 

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    I feel that in most instances, the accountability depends on the particular individual in question. Organizational culture goes a long way in inculcating the habit of accountability among leaders. I also believe that accountability breeds meritocracy and serves as  talent magnet. I think accountability is taught well in military than any other field. I marvel at some of  those leaders’  accountability.

    • Tim Peters

      Completely agree Uma with the military. 

  • Karl Sakas

    Michael, thanks for sharing Allen’s report — that’s a great example, and I’ll start using that myself.

    I lead a team that builds websites for non-profits and other mission-based organizations. I’m proud to work at a company that lets people make mistakes… as long as they take responsibility for their actions and ensure they don’t make the same mistakes again.

    • Jim Martin

      Karl,  I also found it helpful to be able to read Allen’s report myself.  There is something very refreshing about his transparency and candor.

  • Dr. Randy Dignan

    Wow!  We truly do live in a generation of playing the blame game!  Jesus truly said it best by saying the greatest is a servant!  I guess as leaders when we serve others it automatically makes us accountable!  Great thought Mr. Hyatt!  Thanks much!

  • Adam Rico

    I love that your monthly meetings focused on the leadership process as well as the performance results. I’ve been part of organizations where the only thing that mattered were the results. It didn’t matter how they were achieved ( or not achieved). I believe the lessons learned are much more valuable to an organization for long term success.

    • Jim Martin

      Very good point, Adam.  We would be far better off by focusing on what we are learning and how we are developing.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I couldn’t agree more.

  • Mark McGoldrick

    I would be interested in hearing from you Michael about how you can hold volunteers accountable in a non profit org?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think it is really about creating a culture where people want to be held accountable. Ultimately, this is what you have to do in a for-profit as well. I often said to me team, “Everyone is a volunteer.”
      It might be helpful to walk through an exercise with you team where you discuss what accountability is and why it’s important. I would pull this out of the group rather than tell them. Give them the joy of discovering it on their own.

  • Dan Stratton

     One of my favorite books, Good to Great by Jim Collins talks about what he calls Level 5 Leaders. When things go well, the Level 5 leader will point to their people at the cause. When things go poorly, they look in the mirror. Another way of putting it (from Manager Tools – great podcast on management techniques), they look in ever widening concentric circles, beginning at their own desk.

  • Dan Stratton

    Great question, Mark. It is tricky, I imagine. I know in my limited experience, it really keys on the leader. I have to set out to get firm commitment, by first make crystal clear the expectations and reasoning, more so than in ‘business’. The volunteer has to completely buy in and understand the level of commitment required. Then, it comes down to constant follow up and accountability. If they buy in to the reasoning behind the non-profit, the accountability becomes easier. If you, you’re herding cats.

  • Msrighenzi

    My corporation struggles with accountability inside our
    leadership team.  Initially, I found this
    difficult to bear and considered looking for another job.  However, there are many aspects of my
    corporation that make it a great place to work including; innovation in our
    industry, integrity and loyalty to its employees, to name a few.  Although the decision wasn’t easy, the pros outweighed
    the cons and I believe in the potential of this corporation.  I changed my thinking and dropped the resentment,
    I was harboring.  This made it easier for
    me to begin to model the behavior that I expect from my leadership team.  I now take full accountability for my actions
    and when something is out of my control I accept that and move on. 

    There may be a day when I decide to find an organization
    with more accountability but for today I am very happy with my decision to
    focus on my behavior and the things I can control. 

    Thanks Michael for the insightful advice and
    mentoring each day.  You help me define and
    produce excellence daily!

    • TNeal

       Interesting to read how you measured your choice to stay or go. I also admire your decision to remain and change the corporate culture, at least where you’re able.

  • Ralf Kaiser

    When I hear the term accountability, the word “external” comes to mind.  We have done a great job of placing blame.  We have bosses, elected officials and even our walk with Christ at times can appear to be an “external” event.

    What are the best ways to hold ourselves accountable?

    Rather than finger pointing, it is time to put a bend in that finger!

    Oh by the way, change every “we” above, to “I”. :-)

  • Thad Puckett

    There is a video segment in the “Lead Like Jesus” training where Ken Blanchard describes servant leaders as people who “look in the mirror instead of out the window” when something goes wrong.

    I certainly have failed as a leader, but my worst failures were when I focused on anything other than myself as the reason.  I became the victim.

    Accountability is imperative for any organization’s success.  Transparency is important.  Accountability is even more important.

    An excellent post.

    • Jim Martin

      Thad, I like the image of Ken Blanchard describing servant leaders as those who “look in the mirror instead of out of the window” when something goes wrong.  What a great image!

  • Dave Anderson

    I just blogged yesterday about “Shepherds Without Sheep”.  Point #5 based on John 10 is about responsibility:  Good Shepherds Feel Ultimately Responsible for Their Flock.

    Too often I have been in leader meetings and heard leaders complain about their people.  I always see the same leaders complaining.  Who is responsible for their flock?

    • John Tiller

      That’s a great blog post Dave!  I just subscribed to your blog.  Your point reminds me of John Maxwell’s instruction for leaders to look behind ourselves.  If nobody’s following, then we’re just out for a walk. I think that’s a good description for leaders who consistently complain.  

  • Brian Owen

    In my experience, we are soft on accountability in the church world.  A good portion of our “bottom line” is completely out of our control (things like conversions and spiritual growth).  The things that are within our control may or may not contribute to spiritual growth in our members (like attendance). 

    At times I’ve seen ministry workers justifly sloppiness or laziness because of the lack of control over much of what happens in ministry.

    How do we discern what to hold church leadership accountable to do while acknowledging that many things are outside of their control?

    • Jim Martin

      Brain, you have raised some very good questions.  Those of us who serve as ministers really need to model this in our own lives if we want churches to see this as a value.  Thanks!

    • TNeal

       Brian, one of the tough things about church ministry, this holds true in education as well, is the fact that your influence and work may not show up until later (sometimes it happens after you’ve moved on to another place). As a sales person, I can track my work. I make sales or I don’t. As an author, again I can track my work. I either write fresh material or I don’t (which I should be right now but …). When I labor in God’s fields, I often don’t see the immediate results of my labors.

      Having said that though, I can recognize healthy versus unhealthy church life. Does worship, no matter what style, have a vibrancy to it? Do small groups exist and are they multiplying? Is there a growing sense of expectancy? These tend to be byproducts that come from the right focus, which is to love God and to love your neighbor. Simple enough to know but often difficult to do.

      I spent several years in the Russian Far East and saw the influence of the Korean missionary zeal in our area. The liveliest, growing church in our city was led by a Korean pastor.

      For over 50 years American missionaries to Korea rose early and prayed, but they saw little to no fruit. Few Koreans received Christ in those initial missionary days. But then things exploded in that nation (and I don’t know exactly when or where, I just know the Church has grown there and the nation now sends out missionaries of its own all over the world). I also know, along with a strong fervency to proclaim the Gospel, Korean believers rise early, gather together, and pray.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I would start by making a list of what you have control over.

      By the way, this is really no different in the business world. You don’t have control over whether or not people buy your product or use your service. What you have is influence. I think this is similar in the church world.
      1 Cor. 3:6 says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” You can hold people accountable for the planting and watering, while acknowledging that God gives the increase.”
      Hope that helps—or at least provides a framework. Thanks.

      • Brian Owen

        This was helpful Michael.  Thanks.

  • Lincoln Parks

    We are held accountable on a daily basis. This is just another example of how when made public it holds you to that accountability. If nobody knows anything its easy to fly under the radar.

  • Brandon Weldy

    This is awesome. Many times there is a lot of talk about accountability because people like the way it sounds. They want to make it sound as if everyone is held accountable but then the leaders others in the organization relax and allow operations to go unchecked. This happens in organizations, churches, and even “accountability groups” which just turn into a bunch of people complaining about other people in their lives. If more of us took a more no-nonsense approach a lot more growth would happen in the lives of everyone involved.

    • Jim Martin

      Brandon, you are so right.  I’ve noticed that in churches, there is often much talk about accountability with very little actual accountability.

    • TNeal

       If “accountability” means airing complaints, then it fails and wastes your time. My own experience with two friends, whether you call them accountability partners or not, has found a few helpful places to focus.

      1) Have clarity of purpose. Know why you carve out regular time with others. If it’s to play bridge, play bridge. But if it’s accountability, recognize when you stray from your purpose. Someone will take the lead on this point (and, with us, it varies as to whom) or the group will drift. Lose clarity in purpose then you lose both momentum and direction.

      2) Focus on where you have the choices. What others do to me is irrelevant in those conversations. How I respond to adversity or success matters. For me, the guys know the areas where I’m vulnerable. They have permission to ask the tough questions. I own my decisions whether good or bad.

      3) Give it time. The kind of trust needed for accountability takes time to develop. I’m sure there are things you can do to fast-track that development but think homemade rather than store bought. Whether it’s soup or bread (two things I’m familiar with), it takes more time and effort, but the results are worth the effort.

  • Charles Specht

    Leadership can’t thrive in chaos.  Organization helps to make leadership shine.

  • Carey

    Great points… and helpful to a small church (and it’s Pastor) who are in the midst of doing the hard work of re-learning and re-educating ourselves about leadership, following, and the delicate balance between the two!  Kudos!

  • Heman Smith

    Michael, I have learned that the responsibility – and POWER – of ownership vs. victim-hood applies to me individually first.  Then the example enables others to adopt accountability more readily because they can see it being real, thus believe they can as well, and choose to act on it accordingly.  Thanks for the example.

  • Ryanskoog

    I love that there was a cigarette ashtray on the desk of the President of the United States!! How times have changed… 

    • Joe Lalonde

      Good eye Ryan! I completely missed the ashtray.

  • Martina Lamosova

    this article is crystal clear :). in our company are leaders paid by results reached, so its motivational. but i caught myself sometimes thinking  about what would be better if team did more of that or anoother. just taking full responsibility means for me to look on situation without hiding facts :) and this is pushing me to do something about it, because when i take responsibility I believe i can and so i will :).

    • Michele Cushatt

      Great insight, Martina. Financial incentives only take us so far, whereas accountability can help push us to that next level.

  • Mstephens268

    Wow, this floored me. I really needed to hear it, so thank you. As I transition into a new vocation, this has to remain near the forefront of my thinking. Lesson (being) learned. This opens up a whole new perspective.

    • Joe Lalonde

       Congratulations on transitioning to a new vocation. Exciting times!

      What do you think is the most valuable point you took away from this post that you could apply to the new position?

  • Miranda

    I saw the movie ‘Courageous’ some few days back; reading this now, just takes me back to the message in that movie. One thing I love about the movie was that Adams, one of the characters in the movie, held his friend accountable (because they’d all agreed to do so for each other) even when it was so hard. To hold yourself accountable is to choose discipline. When you decide to accept responsibility for the choices you make, something tremendous happens: when you succeed, it’s a win; when you fail, it’s a hard lesson. Either way, it’s a victory, but only because you decided to be accountable. I know of my many past failures that paved ways to my present victories. I just first had to admit that I was responsible for every single one of them. Only then did I turn to God to get the wisdom to grow to where I am today.

    • John Tiller

      That’s a great tie-in to “Courageous”, Miranda!  You bring up a great point that we have to choose to allow others to hold us accountable, so that we can see our mistakes, learn, and move past them more quickly.  

  • Chris Jeub

    Fantastic post! I, too, have found the best leaders to be the ones who are not threatened by failures. The ability to discuss shortcomings are natural to their project development. They’re never really 100% — the best of them pointing out to everyone involved what could have pushed it up a notch. “Chalk it up for next time,” these leaders say, and the team presses forward. And usually upward.

    Funny thing is that these types rarely totally fail. They may meet some troubles, but they seem to always be on their game. Interesting, isn’t it?

    • Joe Lalonde

       It is interesting Chris. But I feel there is a reason behind them rarely totally failing. And that comes in the way they view failure. They see it as a point along the road and something they need to get past. Once it is past, it’s done. They move on and learn from the failure.

      • Chris Jeub

        Yeah. They’re back in the game so quickly, no one noticed them down.

        • John Tiller

          Great points, Chris and Joe.  

          Great leaders identify and acknowledge failure so quickly that by the time that the failure gets noticed by others, the leader is well on his/her way toward achieving results in the next play/initiative (based on what they learned in the failure). 

  • Kris ‘Kroll’ Wood

    Absolutely marvelous. Good insight and self knowledged produced practical and objective “now what” stances. Love it. Will be sharing it far and wide.  Thank you!

  • kimanzi constable

    Allen is a great example of being a leader. It’s easy to be a leader and walk around with your head up while everything is going good. When things start to hit the fan and everything is chaos is when you see a real leader step up. Great example and great post Michael.

    • Joe Lalonde

       I know Kimanzi. Reading Allen’s report, he really came across as accepting responsibility for his mistakes and finding solutions to correct them.

      • kimanzi constable

        It’s inspiring to me and an example to follow!

  • Joe Lalonde

    Lately, it seems our organization has been letting leaders slide. Whether it be major or minor infractions. The quality of it has suffered because of this.  Our team doesn’t feel as connected as it should and is something we should and are working to correct.

  • Tim Gray

     This is a great post with an important message.  I have worked in many church-related organizations as a therapist, manager, and a minister.  In my 25 years of experience, I have seen too many Christian leaders fail to take responsibility for poor decisions and mistakes. This can create a lot of problems in an organization’s productivity and personnel relations–not only physically but also spiritually. There is a trickle down principle of excuses and blaming that can really damage an organization’s work and reputation in the community.

    I learned this lesson the hard way in college when one of my professors confronted me about my many excuses for poor performance and constant blaming something, someone, or anyone else but me. I didn’t want to hear it or believe it; it took a couple of years, actually, but God kept working with me till I got it. Since then, I have always taught, taking responsibility is holding myself accountable rather than forcing someone else to hold me accountable because of my poor performance and lack of responsibility.

    Jesus taught, and also demonstrated, responsibility (personal accountability) throughout His ministry. In fact, He went a step beyond, and took responsibility for much more.  I am truly grateful.  My ongoing prayer is, “Lord, help me follow your example of selfless responsibility.”  

    Thanks for this reminder of accountability.   I am new to your site. I stumbled on it 2 days ago and have found a lot of great content and encouragement.  Great job.

    • John Tiller

      Great thoughts, Tim.  Unaccountable leadership in churches certainly has huge consequences.  Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

  • Melissab

    I’m an adjunct professor in an accelerated bachelors completion program at Azusa Pacific University.  The coursework is in Organizational Leadership from a Christian perspective.  I was so happy to stumble upon your blog just last week since I’m always looking for good info and examples about Christian leadership to integrate into my teaching.  One of my students recently sent me this article regarding our APU president Dr. John Wallace.  I think this article answers your question about APU as an organization and its accountable leadership, and it dovetails nicely with your very well written article.  Thank you! 
    Here’s the link:

    • John Tiller

      Melissa, that’s a great example of personal leadership starting at the top of an organization.  I know you are proud to be a part of an organization that is led that way!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for sharing this. I look forward to reading it.

  • George Gregory

    I thought your observation about leaders vs. victims a good way of putting it. The present upset in the economy is forcing some people to step out of their comfort zones and to take a more direct responsibility for their own careers.

    • John Tiller

      That’s true, George … and not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Chris Denning

    You’re right, this is a great example. I’m learning that I want to be the kind of man who takes responsibility and is accountable for what I do. Thanks for helping this make better physical sense to me, great post, 


    • Michele Cushatt

      I want to be that kind of person too, Chris.

  • Josh Hogg

    I think accountability, and a leader feeling as though the goals of the individuals in his group are his goals, are the qualities that identify a leader immediately (even if he isn’t in a leadership role yet). A leader feels remorse when his team doesn’t succeed and does he best to help those around him be their best. Fantastic post.

  • DentalAccountant

    This is post is true! The fall and rise of an organization depends on a leader, that is why a leader has a big accountability and responsibility, am I right?.  Yeah I agree with this post that one of the most important attitude of a leader is that he/she should be responsible.

  • Fig

    I know Allen and I can tell you that his integrity is as strong as his leadership. His heart is gold and he’s a guy you want watching your back. I’ve got his, with pleasure. Fig

  • PoulAndreassen

    are certain things you do not realize until you read them, and
    through your article I have come to realize those few but interesting
    and effective way to leadership.The hit of the Article”no
    organization can grow and prosper until the leaders are willing to
    step up and take responsibility. As that begins to happen, it opens
    up a whole world of possibility. “Thanks once again!!

  • Jeff Randleman

    My church holds the leaders accountable.  And the leadership holds each other accountable as well.  I believe integrity in this is crucial.

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  • Peter Walters

     In a world of “It’s not really my fault because..”  this is a great post.  “Until you take responsibility, you are a victim. And being a victim is the exact opposite of being a leader.” is a great line and I am putting it in my illustration file   

  • Chip Dizard

    I am a first-year teacher in urban Baltimore City.  I sometimes hear teachers berate kids and make excuses that kids can’t learn and achieve. Excuses abound on why we can’t meet our goals.  It’s so easy to get caught up into that mindset.  Our leadership team makes little or no excuses for achievement.  To me it’s a mindset from the top, but the troops need to believe that kids can achieve despite of the odds.  

    My former boss says “The kids come as is” and that is how I approach teaching. Will I be able to reach everyone? No, but the ones that do listen will thank me years later.  I am accountable to them. 

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  • Christopher Miller

    Something I am learning as I dive back into the management game is that it is about: a) taking personal responsibility for the overarching goals of my department and b) having a contingency plan when something I am depending on falls through. This article is so helpful with stopping excuses, acknowledging a shortfall and coming up with a plan to avoid them in the future. Thank you.

  • Ligi

    gr8 thought!!!!
    Every leader must know this fact of growing in Leadership!!!

  • David @ Time Clock

    Definitely that use of “I” seems to be key. Thanks for the reminder that we need to take accountability for what we do!

  • Rob Moore

    I agree that many people don’t want to be accountable for their actions in leadership positions but it’s critical in order to be a successful leader. Its very difficult to get results when there’s little to no accountability. The best leaders take the bull by the horns and do whatever is necessary as a leader to succeed. Very good information here and thanks for sharing!

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  • Kay

    Our senior Leader who isn’t around all the time certainly does, our direct manger does not. It is very frustrating and causes quite a bit of infighting amongst the Leadership group. This is due to the managers avoidant behaviour in dealing with staff perception or hearsay. He refuses to give it any notice. And when there is evidence of an issue, he uses strong attribution against the character of the person who is giving the feedback. He will say things like: “What is this persons performance or character like”. “Do we really believe this would happen”. I have the view that if there is a perception there is a problem. This lack of awareness from the manager causes the leadership team in my organisation to appear to not be accountable and to hold others accountable, it affects morale, attrition and UPA.