Make Leadership Accountability a Priority

January 12, 2021

Make Leadership Accountability a Priority

Most CEOs I work with express frustration over the lack of accountability they see in their organizations. I find this is especially true of CEOs new to their companies. They usually arrive with a mandate to drive significant change. They know they will need leaders to step up in new ways to drive success. However, after they spend time getting to know the state of their organization, they realize there are many leadership accountability gaps. The gaps may exist with the executive team or leaders at other levels of the organization. At other times, they recognize that the HR function isn’t doing its job. Unless they address these gaps, progress will be difficult. However, to address leadership accountability gaps effectively requires commitment on the part of the board, the CEO, the CHRO and other senior executives. 

The first step, then, is to help key stakeholders understand their accountability. 

The Role of the Board

Increasingly, boards are therefore assuming greater oversight of leadership accountability and culture. Boards need to think about leadership accountability as a risk issue requiring their oversight. If leadership accountability in an organization is weak, this creates risk for the execution of the business strategy, the ability to attract and retain the best talent in the industry, and the reputation of the company.

  • Hire a CEO who is an accountable leader. 
  • Encourage the CEO to be accountable for leadership accountability. 
  • Recruit new directors to the board who are committed to being accountable leaders. 
  • Ensure the board has a director with solid HR experience. Many boards struggle to fully appreciate talent, leadership and HR issues, as they typically do not have a director with depth and expertise in these areas. 
  • Ensure the board sets the tone for the rest of the organization. 

The Role of the CEO

CEOs must make leadership accountability a priority and see it as part of their efforts to leave the organization in a stronger and better place than they found it. 

  • Demonstrate strong leadership accountability at a personal level. 
  • Hire a strong head of HR. I believe hiring the right person to lead HR may be the most crucial decision a CEO ever makes. 
  • Build a truly accountable executive team. The clarity, the commitment and the alignment they demonstrate set a powerful tone that inspires employees and creates confidence in everyone’s ability to drive success. 
  • Set clear leadership expectations and pay attention to your leadership culture. 

The Role of the Senior Executives

The CEO plays a critical role in making leadership accountability a priority in the organization. These efforts get amplified when senior executives and the extended leadership team (usually the direct reports of the executive team) also rally around to support the CEO. 

  • Demonstrate strong leadership accountability at a personal level Just like the CEO, all senior executives and leaders must step up as accountable leaders. 
  • Build truly accountable teams. The senior leaders need to be seen to work well with each other. They must also build accountable teams within their divisions, functions or departments. 
  • Address leadership accountability gaps. 
  • Ensure the extended leadership team sets the right tone for others. 

The Role of the CHRO

The head of HR has a pivotal role in helping an organization build strong leadership accountability. When a company has a strong HR leader in place, amazing things happen for the organization. When the HR leaders are weak or mediocre, little progress is made. 

  • Set the tone at a personal level. As the leader of the people function of an organization, employees expect the top HR leader to be above reproach, to be the guiding light, and even be the conscience for everyone else. It’s a significant obligation, but this is what it means to be an HR leader in today’s world.
  • Build a truly accountable HR team. 
  • Encourage senior executives to address weak and unaccountable leadership on their teams. 
  • Ensure the organization commits to creating clear leadership expectations. 
  • Establish a balanced compensation strategy. The CHRO must work with the CEO and the board’s compensation committee to ensure that the strategy is balanced both on the “what” and the “how” of leadership. The what is about measuring and compensating leaders for their ability to deliver desired business results. The how is about measuring and compensating leaders on how they step up as leaders, building strong leadership accountability and a strong culture across their teams and organization.
  • Provide metrics to the board. 
  • Make sure your team does not enable mediocre leadership. HR needs to be a sounding board for leaders to help them do their jobs and tackle their own hard work.
  • Implement practices to help drive strong leadership accountability. 

It is vitally important to be explicit in how the board, the CEO, senior executives, and the CHRO need to think about their roles in building strong leadership accountability.

The Authors: 

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D., is CEO of Leadership Contract, Inc. and author of Accountable Leaders: Inspire a Culture Where Everyone Steps Up, Takes Ownership, and Delivers Results (Wiley). Excerpted with permission from the publisher. Copyright 2020 by Vince Molinaro.