It’s often said that leadership is “top-down.” But what does that mean in terms of practicalities? How does a leader tactfully build the culture they want? 

A big piece of it is accountability, which is 360 degrees. The bigger your area of responsibility, the deeper your sense of accountability needs to go in regards to yourself, your team, and the organization as a whole. Holding your direct reports accountable can be tough. But ultimately, the performance of your entire team is a reflection of you as a leader.

For example, have you ever been waiting on your team to finish tasks so you can move on to the next thing? Maybe you’ve even had some thinking creep in that says “it would be easier or faster if I just did this myself.” When you’re in a management role, it’s not about how much work you can do, but how much work you can manage. It takes a lot of time and coaching, but if we – and our teams – are going to grow, we have to learn to hold others accountable for their part. If we jump in and fix it every time, we miss a huge opportunity to develop that person and achieve greater success in the long run. 

And on that note, we also have to hold ourselves accountable for the highest and best use of our time as leaders. Many supervisors’ frustrations are rooted in working at a level that is lower than what their title says. Give your team the space, coaching, and ultimately the accountability they need to step up and share the load!

This is what I like to think of as a trickle-up effect. Culture and growth can be built from the ground up just as much like the top-down. If we have great people but are not holding them accountable for their potential, it will stifle our growth as leaders. Ask yourself, “Am I impacting and developing the leaders under me? Or am I watching and not solving the continuation of the trickle-up effect?” 

When it comes to developing direct reports to be more self-accountable, here are a few things I’ve learned: 

  1. Prioritize things for individuals. Help them understand not only what is important, but why it’s important. We all have tasks we hate. Learn to decipher what tasks your team struggles with and how to help motivate them, which differs from person to person.
  2. Be direct, but show grace. Depending on their personality, communication style, and receptiveness to leadership, you can adapt to your team’s style and needs. The “what” should be direct, but there can be grace and flexibility in “how” they complete tasks. 
  3. Be proactive. Communicate quickly and thoroughly, and get ahead of situations where a course correction is needed. But keep it growth-focused. Softening how you react when mistakes are made can open the door to growth rather than crippling disappointment.
  4. Communicate intentionally. Individuals interpret things like tone and word choice differently, but all personality types need clarity. You can still deliver a message that sets clear expectations by including words of encouragement that instill confidence in the individual to complete the task. 
  5. Relationships matter. Building relationships with your team outside of work can improve trust and understanding. That camaraderie and care can keep the conversation rooted in a concern for that person’s development rather than just blunt or dry feedback. As the saying goes, “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

The more you practice these things, the more comfortable you’ll get, and maybe even find that accountability is kindness when it comes to development. Studies actually show that 65% of employees want more feedback. Providing solutions on how someone can improve will benefit them as an employee and your team overall.  Knowing how to change something rather than wondering what can be done differently can increase work ethic. 

Here at RiverWild, accountability is so important that it’s one of our core values. We’ve learned that the most growth happens when that feedback is rooted in personal care. As long as you reinforce that you believe in the individual, adapt your communication to how they’ll be able to receive it best, and then hold them accountable to their potential… people are usually grateful that their leader cared enough to coach them.

With proper communication and feedback, you too can help impact and develop others to be accountable leaders. 

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