read-carlaI recently had the privilege of speaking on a few of “the pearls” in Expect to Win at All Children’s Hospital in Tampa Florida and had the honor of meeting with the terrific leader of the hospital, Dr. Jonathan Ellen. In our meeting, the conversation moved towards leadership and he introduced this concept of leading with authority or leading with accountability. I identified immediately with his comment, as it is very consistent with my own definition of powerful, influential and impactful leadership (see previous blogs on this site).

Leading using authority is effective, but I believe that it doesn’t accommodate or inspire the most productive contributions from your team. Many leaders who use their authority (seniority or title) to get their team to execute or move forward are also leaders who have a “my way or the highway” leadership style. This style of leadership will always get compliance from the team of people that is working with this type of leader, they will in fact, deliver exactly what their job description says that they should deliver. However, the members of the team will feel stymied from offering the most creative, the most productive ideas because they are cautious or in the worst case, fearful of putting forth ideas that might be contrary to the leader’s ideas. Team members may worry about the consequences of articulating the “out of the box” idea and therefore decide not to take the risk of putting forth an idea that could be innovative, that could put the company or the product way ahead of the competition, the idea that could be not only industry leading, but industry defining. In this scenario, everyone loses, the leader doesn’t get the best idea, the team member feels that they are not contributing what they could and professionally less fulfilled, and the company loses competitively because it is not getting the best from all of its resources.

Leading with Accountability is very powerful, because everyone who is involved has a sense of ownership, there is a personal commitment to the outcome, to the team’s success, and there is some proverbial “skin in the game”. A good leader will create an environment and define tasks in a way that it is clear that the project or process cannot be achieved without everyone’s input, no matter how big or small. A great leader will create an environment of interdependence where everyone feels accountable to the whole and is motivated to execute his or her part. In an Accountability Leadership Environment, a good leader will also create a series of checks and balances where team members are held accountable to a time table and discrete deliverables. The leader must be VERY clear about what success looks like for the team or for that particular project, but does NOT have to be specific about how the project or the outcome is to be achieved, be clear about the WHAT, not necessarily about the HOW. In leaving the “HOW” undefined, each team member is given the latitude to put his or her personal imprimateur on the project, there is room not only for execution, but also for personal contribution. As the leader, you want everyone to feel motivated to invest personally in the project and to feel safe enough to add their own personal “HOW” to the execution process. In the process, you may find that you get a better idea of how to execute a project, you may get a completely and better idea than the one that you originally defined for the team.

-Carla Ann Harris