Thoughts on Leadership: 5 Levels of Accountability

Most leaders have a love–hate relationship with accountability. On the one hand, we know that accountability is the secret sauce to success. On the other hand, we loathe having to report numbers to coaches and managers and we avoid being asked the “hard” questions. Being truly vulnerable about our failures and shortcomings requires a lot of personal courage. But facing up to that and embracing accountability on ever higher levels is absolutely essential for personal growth.

Leaders typically engage in one of five “Levels of Accountability.”  

The first lowest level of accountability is the “No Accountability” level.  This level is reserved for those leaders who reject coaching and do not want anyone to keep tabs on them.  They don’t want to improve or, possibly, don’t believe that they can improve.  They are the 80% of the population who are just wandering around. Lots of stagnation. Not much growth.

One level of accountability higher is what we could call “Self-Inflicted Accountability.”  These are box checkers who may write down their goals and even track their progress toward accomplishing them.  And they are Lone Rangers who don’t need help from anyone else. This is certainly better than nothing, but keeps leaders on this level completely trapped in their comfort zone. It is also much easier to just quit on your goals when there isn’t someone else keeping tabs on them. 

The third level of accountability is what we could call “Phantom Level Accountability.”  Phantom Level Accountability looks great from the outside – a coach or mentor or manager has set up tracking systems and a cadence of accountability sessions with the leader, but the leader has either learned how to manipulate the conversation to avoid the real tough questions or simply cancels and avoids the structure.

These first three levels of accountability ultimately fail to improve performance and move the ball forward.  Business owners who see tepid or non-existent growth in their key numbers should investigate to see if their leaders are engaging in one of these lower levels of accountability.  

The fourth level is the Trusted Advisor level of accountability. In a way, this is really where accountability starts. The leader has found a coach/mentor/manager to guide them toward goal achievement. The leader accepts that the coach will ask tough questions, will push for the leader to fill the gap between where they are and where they should be, and will hold them to high standards of achievement. The leader “shows up” both physically and mentally for accountability or coaching sessions. This fourth level is where the magic begins!

The fifth level of accountability is the Pinnacle level. Here, the leader has recognized the critical importance of a coach or mentor in all parts of their life, not just business. In his Quantum Leap class, kw co-founder Gary Keller notes that a successful person may have coaches in the following areas:  Financial, Business, Career, Personal, Physical, and Spiritual.  Fifth level accountability means engaging in multiple coaching relationships across all of these areas of personal development. This is where the leader becomes truly unstoppable, unlocking their full potential in a truly holistic way.

Consider your relationship with accountability – which level most resembles your experience?  And consider the accountability levels of the people who report to you – is it time to level up?

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