The Accountability Culture: Creating A Shift in Leadership Mindset


In my work as a facilitator of leadership development, I often ask leaders the following questions: What does the victim mentality look like? More importantly, how does it feel? Do you know someone who primarily lives in this level of consciousness, someone who avoids personal responsibility and blames others for how they feel and the results they get? How are their interpersonal relationships, productivity and overall performance?

The Perfect Breeding Ground
The next very important question I love to ask is: is it possible that our present cultures are a perfect breeding ground (unintentionally, of course) for this level of consciousness? These are important and powerful questions because once asked and answered we have the opportunity to take responsibility to change the environments we create in the workplace. In doing so we can enhance performance and the level of accountability our contributors are willing to own.

Everything about a work culture starts with the leader. If we want each individual contributor to embrace personal empowerment and take full accountability for their results then we need to do the same. We need to start asking the often uncomfortable questions about our expectations and our relationships with our contributors. While rewiring the brain takes time and energy, the rewards are astounding.

Honest Questions Worth Asking
Take a moment and consider that one person you lead or manage who struggles with performance and/or interpersonal relationships. How much time do you spend managing this situation? What is the story you tell yourself about that person? Is the energy this person experiences when they are with you positive or negative? Be as honest as possible with your answers.

Now that you have a better sense of the energy you are emitting, ask yourself some further questions. How much do people at work actually know the real you, the intimate you on the inside, your thoughts and feelings? Nine times out of 10 the leaders we work with will say, “They don’t know me at all.”

So why do we think we know our contributors?

A Shift to Accountability Culture
Yes, we have some observable behaviour that we witness at work, but this is a very small part of who they are. Admitting that we have very little information about our employees and then managing our judgements about them is the first step in shifting from a culture where the victim mentality thrives to one of accountability.

Accepting people exactly where they are, while remembering that acceptance does not imply agreement, will help us shift our perspective and the energy we emit when working with them. Once these important steps are taken we can reflect, understand, and manage our intentions.

The Performance Management Disconnect
When I ask leaders why they manage performance, I get a wide variety of answers: “I manage performance because it is part of my job; I am responsible for the performance of the department; I am responsible to ensure everyone performs their best.” Some leaders admit that they manage performance in order to keep their boss happy. Those who are really honest will sometimes say, “My life is just easier when every contributor performs well.”

In all of these instances the energy is focused on the organization, team and leader. The true intention is that the company will do better, the team’s overall performance will improve and the leaders job gets easier. Rarely is the intention to understand, support or listen to the employee. My experience is that employees sense the energy associated with this process and feel lost among the myriad expectations and needs of others. This is how the victim mentality thrives.

When we shift our true intention to having a strong desire to see the employee happy and engaged the employee immediately senses the shift in energy between the parties. It is about them and not the organization. If you agree that everything is energy, which of course is based on clear science, then we must begin to manage energy in an intentional and authentic way. Changing the energy in the relationship and conversation is the most important thing we can do.

Let It Go: A Counterintuitive Necessity
The next step is to detach from the results the employee demonstrates. I know this sounds so counterintuitive because it goes against everything we have learned in management school, but our attachments and expectations are what create this victim mentality in the first place. When we recognize that the only person who can change their behaviour and performance is the contributor, then we stop owning the results.

The performance of others is not the responsibility of the leader. If I want a front line contributor to take responsibility I have to begin by not taking the responsibility and energy myself. Employees sub-consciously sense when a leader has attachments to results and is holding the responsibility for a particular project. Why should they take it when someone else is already doing so?

A Change in Leadership Focus
Transformation can only happen when coaching conversations occur. However, the work of the leader prior to any coaching conversation is critical to the success of managing energy and where the responsibility should be. Shifting accountability and responsibility from the side of the leader’s desk to the contributors is an intentional and conscious process. We cannot tell someone to take responsibility; if we do this we are simply using the carrot and the stick, which we know does not work in the majority of situations and is very old energy.

The number one responsibility of the leader is not to manage performance, but to create an environment where each individual contributor wants and does take responsibility for their actions and outcomes. This process is not about everyone being friends and holding hands. It is actually about creating an unstoppable culture of accountability with measurable results.

Just remember that creating the accountability culture is easy, but as with anything important it takes time and a significant shift in our thinking and, most importantly, our leading.

Yvonne Thompson is presenting the Creating the Accountability Culture webinar on June 5. For more information on this and other professional development opportunities, please visit

Yvonne Thompson, a member of CPHR BC & Yukon, is the founder and CEO of Change Innovators Inc., a learning and development company focused on Leadership programming in North America and Europe. Yvonne designed, developed and implemented the New World Leadership™ Series and has been facilitating it for over twelve years. Yvonne has a Master of Arts in Leadership from Royal Roads University, British Columbia, Canada and is a Chartered Professional of Human Resources winning the AON Hewitt Award of Excellence. Yvonne is a public speaker, presenting at conferences and conventions, providing keynotes on Leadership and Creating an Accountability Culture and concurrent workshops focused on New World Leadership™ theories.

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