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A Checklist For Holding Staff (and Board) Accountable

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

The word accountable has come up a lot with the leaders I coach. These folks are follow-through, get things done people.

What they are struggling with is how to hold the people that work for them (and the board members who volunteer with them) accountable in a way that feels genuine and effective. I’m sure many of you can relate! What can we do about this?

The Hard Part About Accountability

What we normally mean by accountability in the workplace is taking ownership of your work and your role. We basically want everyone around us to do what they say they are going to do and take responsibility for their actions, behaviors and impact on others. I see leaders not wanting to hold the people around them accountable for a few main reasons:

  • “I don’t want to create conflict or hurt anyone’s feelings”

  • “I don’t know how to hold this person accountable”

  • “It’s easier for me to do the work myself”

This happens with collaborative leaders. These are the leaders who like to play off of others and the synergy that can exist when a team is working well together. This happens with experienced leaders. These are the leaders who have risen up the ranks and know exactly how to do the work they are asking their team to do. This happens with compassionate leaders. These are the leaders who want their employees to love their jobs and not have to go through the mistakes of learning how to do something. We need these collaborative, experienced and compassionate leaders. So how can we keep them that way and give them the tools to be accountable for holding their teams accountable?

What Does Accountability Look Like?

We can look at accountability as a burden and a chore. This leads to arbitrary rules, unstructured assessments, hard-lining conversations and stress for everyone. No fun. We can also look at accountability as an opportunity to show how much you value your work and your team - and how much you trust them. This allows leaders to: √ Clarify the bigger picture of why the work is important, √ Set clear benchmarks and roles with all team members, √ Actively listen to ensure their team has what they need to work, √ Develop a knack for compassionate candor or feedback, √ Create regular check-in points to assess progress & needs, and √ Begin to see practice & failure as part of moving forward. Interestingly, this tends to build a collaborative, compassionate work environment. Wasn’t that just the space we were trying to get to by avoiding the conflict of holding people accountable?

It's Not Easy

The last thing to mention is that holding employees (and volunteers) accountable is tough work. Though the long-term benefits are immeasurable, in the short-term it can be time consuming, uncomfortable and shift the tenor of the organization. That’s where a coach can come in handy - and if you’re looking to work with someone, I’d love to chat. In the meantime, let me know what works and doesn’t work as you move forward on your leadership journey. If you enjoyed this blog, join my newsletter for more insights, stories and actions for ambitious nonprofit leaders. And in the meantime, keep up with me on LinkedIn!


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