It can be challenging to be the one accountable for results when you're dependent on others to produce the results. It's a little easier when people report to you because, as the boss, you have the power to direct or redirect priorities.
But most leaders also rely on people outside of their direct reports for input and deliverables that are critical to their success. This dynamic adds to the pressure many leaders feel on a day-to-day basis.
There is something you can do as a leader to increase accountability in others:
Negotiate more and delegate less.
A word of caution about delegation
There's nothing wrong with delegating but it can lead to an unintended consequence that isn't always obvious.
Have you ever delegated a task to someone who didn't do what you asked when you asked for it? Chances are your answer is yes.
This tends to happen when you delegate tasks that add volume to an already full "to-do" list. When people think they can't say no to anything, that list will grow beyond what they can possibly deliver. They're eventually forced to decide what takes priority and what doesn't. When something has to give, that means what you need done falls off their high priority list. It happens to all of us.
Negotiating task completion when time is tight
Most people don't relate to tasks assigned to them as promises they need to keep. It's not that they don't take the tasks assigned seriously, but all of us have to make choices daily about what we will and won't do.
That's where negotiating comes in. Even when something is urgent, there's usually room to negotiate:
- Perhaps what needs to be done is firm, but maybe you have some flexibility with the due date.
- Maybe you can break the request up into multiple steps.
By giving someone room to negotiate some aspect(s) of your request, you heighten their sense of responsibility and investment in the work, making them more likely to deliver to you as promised.
Getting a commitment to finish
The negotiation process gives you the chance to convey what is most important and why. The negotiations increase their accountability because you're no longer just adding something to their to do list. You are asking for a specific commitment from them for what will be delivered by when.
They've made a commitment and you gave them a choice, which is essential to increasing the level of accountability in any relationship.
There's no reason you can't continue delegating work. But when you truly need a promise that something will be done when you need it, consider adding an element of negotiation. You'll hand off work effectively and secure a commitment you can count on.