There are two sides to the accountability coin, and as leaders we stand on both.  The first side is all about being accountable to ourselves and for our teams (both direct and indirect) for the outcomes we are entrusted to deliver.  The second side is all about ensuring we have provided the necessary support (the right tools for the job and removing barriers to success) for our teams to be able to thrive and deliver on the outcomes for which they are individually and collectively being held responsible. On the topic of accountability, when we are able, we can ensure that our team is able too!

At The Vantage Group, we work from coast to coast across the country, touching a multitude of industries, and the topic of accountability has repeatedly risen to the top of conversations in all sectors.  Accountability is proving to be a missing ingredient, one that needs to be addressed in nearly every setting of our work. From Executive Coaching, Leadership Development Coaching, Leadership Training and Workshops, Strategic Growth Planning, Team Development Training and Workshops…the list goes on.  So why is accountability such a hot topic in business and leadership today?  What is making it difficult for leaders to deliver on this foundational skill for successful business and their roles as leaders?

It is possible, based on what we are seeing…that leaders have become paralyzed by the fear of not seeming empathetic. Having lived through the traumatic and chaotic time of a global health pandemic, knocking nearly everyone off kilter for some period of time, has heightened the need to show grace, flexibility and heart for our people in ways most businesses and leaders had never dealt with before. The workforce of today requires empathy in many ways and leaders have seemingly forgotten that they need to deliver on accountability in tandem with that empathy.  But here’s the deal, the great news is that your people want accountability and don’t believe that one is at the expense of the other.  When leaders deliver on both accountability and empathy, people are put back at the center of what they (business) do and how they do it. One of my favorite quotes is from the well-known Zig Ziglar, “You don’t build business.  You build people and the people build the business.”  This is the epitome of accountable empathy when we see our people at the center of our “how and what” of business.

So, where do you go from here?  How do you put the ability back into accountability?

You start placing your people back at the center of how their responsibilities impact business outcomes.

Let’s walk through 4 keys for balancing accountability and empathy:


  • How clear are the expectations and outcomes for which you are responsible?
  • How clear are you?
  • How clear are your people?

If it isn’t clear for you, it isn’t clear for them.  And when it isn’t clear…your ability to be and to hold others accountable is lost.  It becomes a moving and allusive target that creates frustration, chaos, conflict and misunderstandings around every corner.

You need to consider…

  • What you can do to further clarify expectations and outcomes for yourself and your team?
  • How frequently are you checking in with your people to regularly ensure their individual clarity?
  • Where have you been assuming alignment and clarity?

You can read more on The 5 levels of Goal Clarity for Team Success in this recent Forbes article.

Active Observation

  • When is the last time you actively observed your team’s work?
  • Have you gone to Gemba and walked your shop floor with the intention of learning and understanding…not to just check a box or to “catch them doing something wrong”?

Active observation is key to authentically delivering empathy and accountability in tandem.  We need to remove the assumptions and ambiguity out of what is getting in the way of success and see it first-hand. When we see and feel the human struggle in process, we are able to actively work at solving problems and removing barriers to make the work easier, more seamless and effective.  When we remove or reduce the human struggle, we increase our “ability” to deliver results and outcomes productively, both for ourselves and our teams.

You need to consider…

  • Where are the pain points taking place and what assumptions have you been making on the barriers that are causing the pain?
  • What do you need to better understand?
  • When will you go to Gemba for active observation?

Connect the Big Picture to the Individual & Team

This goes hand-in hand with clarity, but it takes on a little different spin.  When we connect the Big Picture at the individual and team level, it allows us to see the importance of the basic tasks in relationship to our long-term organizational or departmental strategies.  We understand the importance of the seemingly small details that stand between our immediate reality and the ultimate outcomes we or our teams are being held accountable.  When that connection comes alive, we better prioritize, problem solve and make decisions.  We also become more actively engaged in understanding and improving the connection points and handoffs between ourselves and our internal customers (those that receive any of the output from our work). And the great news is, that when that connection is strengthened, our ability to be and to hold others accountable is strengthened too!

You need to consider…

  • How well do you and/or your team understand their internal customer needs?
  • When is the last time you asked your internal customers how well you are doing and/or what they need from you for success?
  • What can and will you do to connect the big picture to your individual team members and broader team?

Regular Feedback

Delivering regular feedback, both the good and the opportunity for improvement, needs to become a standard operating procedure for you and your team.  All too often leaders struggle with putting ability back into accountability because they forget to balance the positive feedback with the opportunities for growth and improvement. When the pendulum swings only in one direction, you run the danger of either over inflating results, leading to thinking that there is no need for improvement, or you may find yourself not working with enough relational capital to effectively hold yourself and your teams accountable.  When this happens, your team has likely stopped hearing you either way.

When you balance the positives and the opportunities for improvement, you can better illuminate a path forward that is accountable and effective.  Furthermore, when you get used to having balanced regular feedback baked into the standard operating procedures of your team and leadership, solving for problems and addressing opportunities for growth feels more like you supporting the achievable and less like attacking attempt to deliver.

You need to consider…

  • How often are you seeking feedback on your own performance…asking what is working well and where you might need to improve?
  • How balanced are you in the delivery of feedback to your team?
  • Are you working to solve problems or attaching the attempt to deliver?

Our clients have often heard me say, “YOU are the common denominator in every relationship, project and scenario your find yourself in.” If you want to put ability back into accountability, you need to do your part first!  Remember, on the topic of accountability, when we are able, we can ensure that our team is also able.

  • What do you need to make clear?
  • What do you need to actively observe?
  • What connections can you help make between the big picture and the individuals and/or your team?
  • How can you help you and your team better understand their internal customers?
  • How will you implement a regular cadence of balanced feedback into your standard working procedures?

If you are struggling to put the “ability” back into accountability, there is help. If you don’t have a leadership coach that is challenging your thinking and helping you to work on you first, that is a great place to start.  Are you ready to start balancing accountability and empathy in your business and leadership? Reach out today and we will connect you with an expert coach that is the right fit for you and your needs.