Building a Common Language for Accountability: Keys to Successful Leadership

You can’t have accountability without understood and agreed-upon expectations.

You can’t have accountability without understood and agreed-upon


However, in situations worldwide, every single day, that is what many think should


We assume that because we think a certain way, everyone else does, and what we

believe should happen is implicitly understood the same way by everyone involved.

We can all remember scenarios where this has been the furthest thing from the


But why?

Why do we believe everyone thinks, acts and reacts as we do?

Do they have the same inside information about things as we do? Probably not.

Do they have the same experiences and industry knowledge we have gleaned over

the years? Again, the answer is probably no.

Do they have the same way of looking at problems, and do they immediately come

up with the exact solutions we do? Again, I think you know the answer.

But as leaders, we assume that they do.

We assume everyone implicitly understands our ideas of what is right and wrong,

what is a priority, and what good vs. great looks like without us having to explain


The trouble is that everyone comes to the table with their ideas of right

and wrong and has hopes, fears, aspirations and goals of their own.

These may align with ours, but they may not be. They may lead people to similar

logical conclusions as ours, or they might take people on a completely different


So what do we do?

We build a common language, a set of understood and agreed-upon goals and

expectations, and develop a course of action where everyone has a stake in

achieving success.

In other words, we do not dictate; we communicate.

Creating an opportunity to ask questions, gain clarification and share ideas without

preconceived judgment or bias.

This allows people to understand not only what needs to happen but why, when,

and how achieving that goal benefits the overall objectives and them personally.

To accomplish this takes time, effort and leadership.

It takes realizing that dictums do not enable us to move the needle as far or as fast

as collaboration.

Expectations must be understood and agreed upon to have effective

accountability and hold anyone responsible for anything.

Many leaders don’t seem to grasp that this is not a one-way scenario.

Not only should there be expectations set for those you lead, but you also must be

accountable for either meeting or not meeting their expectations.

It could be your responsibility to ferry the project through political minefields, secure

budgets, ensure reasonable timelines and adequate staffing, or be a sounding board

when needed.

If your teams cannot rely on you to shoulder your part of the project, how can you

expect them to be their best?

Now is the best time to check in with people. We must ensure everyone agrees on

what needs to be accomplished, why and when, and understand what help we need

from others and the overall goals.

HINT: This works at all levels and across departments, regions and


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