3 Ways Creating Accountability Demonstrates Leadership Empathy

By: Tony Gambill

Successful leadership requires that leaders demonstrate empathy while also creating clear accountability for their teams and employees. Unfortunately, many people perceive the concepts of empathy and accountability are at odds with one another. Accountability often gets a bad reputation because people are concerned that they will be unfairly judged if they fall short of expectations. 

The best leaders understand that accountability is about empowerment – not control.

The truth is that establishing a culture of accountability is one of the most empathic things a leader can do for their employees. Have you ever worked on a team that lacked accountability? If the answer is yes, you probably experienced some of the following repercussions:

Low performance levels
Missed deadlines
Lack of team trust
Ongoing team conflict
Accountability is necessary for team members to have high levels of motivation, mutual trust and performance. Empathic leaders continually strive to establish accountability because it is a key ingredient for building a culture where employees can thrive.

3 Ways Creating Accountability Demonstrates Leadership Empathy

1. Accountability Creates Clear Expectations
Research has clearly proven that specific, challenging goals lead to higher levels of performance rather than vague, easy, or do-your best goals. Setting clear expectations provides employees the benefits of clarity, focus, and increased performance. Unclear or misaligned goals and expectations are one of the primary causes of interpersonal conflict, low levels of trust and poor team relationships.

Leaders must constantly focus their time and effort on getting everyone in the organization 100% focused on accomplishing the most important activities for current and future success. Establishing clear expectations about “what we are doing”, “how we get are going to get there”, “who is responsible for key tasks”, and “when these tasks need to be completed” creates an environment that enables laser-like focus and accountability in the team’s day-to-day pursuit of goals

2.  Accountability Builds Team Trust
It is hard to overstate the importance of establishing a pattern of accountability to build trust in our professional relationships. Accountability and trust are spoken of in the same breath because they are interrelated. This becomes even more pronounced as teams work virtually to complete their goals.

It is the leader’s role to establish processes and behaviors that ensure accountability because trust develops once team members realize that their teammates are reliable. When team members deliver on commitments, trust is built. Accountability allows people to count on each other, whether that means meeting deadlines, fulfilling duties, or feeling comfortable enough to approach a co-worker or manager for help

3.  Accountability Enables Accomplishment
Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.

- Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer

I see a deluge of articles and quotes that focus solely on the importance of leaders expressing empathy. Leadership empathy is important but it is only part of the story. Effective leaders must also place an equal emphasis on delivering results. For an employee to truly put their trust in a leader they must believe the leader can help the team get the job done, while also maintaining positive trusting relationships.

Every employee needs to feel a sense of accomplishment in their work. When employees experience a sense of accomplishment, they naturally become more engaged in their work, and are more motivated to continually improve. This is why it is important for leaders to develop team behaviors and processes for accountability which will enable employees to feel a sense of accomplishment and success.

Leaders who demonstrate healthy empathy are able to show awareness of and concern for the needs of their employees while also establishing a culture where employees are held accountable to delivering on their agreed upon commitments. This is one of the many paradoxes of successful leadership.

About the Author: Tony Gambill is the President and Founder of ClearView Leadership, an innovative leadership and talent development consulting firm helping executives and managers bring their best leadership self to their most challenging situations. Coauthor of the upcoming book, Getting It Right When It Matters Most, published by Business Expert Press

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