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Not for the Faint of Heart: The Realities of Accountability in Leadership

By Jennifer Tucker, Writer and Content Creator  |  June 1, 2024
Realities of Accountability in Leadership

When it comes to creating a thriving, successful organization, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But there is a common denominator: effective leadership.

What does it take to be an effective leader? It requires knowledge, yes. But it also demands courage, compassion, and accountability. Realize it or not, when you step into a leadership role, you accept a tremendous burden. And while it might seem that some of us are built to embrace that responsibility, the reality is that leadership definitely isn’t for the faint of heart.

Over the past few weeks, this article has popped up in my inbox twice. In it, the Chief People Officer of DocuSign explains the company’s approach to leadership development. “We want people to go into people leadership with their eyes wide open about what it entails,” she said.

I can’t help but think that this article’s apparent popularity stems from DocuSign’s novel approach. Too many other organizations fail to take the same tack and instead promote people into leadership roles without equipping them to navigate the tumultuous waters they’re likely to face.

Research shows that the way a company develops its leaders can be incredibly telling of its success. Ill-prepared leaders are less likely to succeed in guiding their teams through the increasing complexity and disruptive change we’re experiencing today. On the other hand, emerging leaders who are offered a realistic preview of the challenges they may face—and then opt in anyway—are more likely to excel.

Be Prepared: 5 Practices of an Accountable Leader

There are many types of accountability would-be leaders should be prepared to accept, ranging from financial stewardship to performance management. But embracing the role of a leader goes beyond building your management skills. It also requires evaluating your ability—and willingness—to hone the practices of an effective leader.

Here are 5 key practices of accountable leaders that can help you assess your preparedness for the critical role of leadership:


As a leader, it’s your responsibility to clear a path for people to do their best work. That begins by establishing direction—setting long-term goals, articulating how they align with the organization’s overarching strategy, and guiding efforts to achieve them. But there’s one thing leaders sometimes forget about strategy: it requires being purposeful and visionary.

Accountable leaders are visionary leaders who purposefully offer a roadmap for the future. Years ago, the Leadership Circle researched the correlation between specific leadership traits and business performance. The study found a strong link between effectiveness and a leader’s capacity to express purpose and vision. In fact, the Purposeful & Visionary dimension emerged as the highest correlation to leadership effectiveness among all the other competencies. This means effective leaders not only set direction, but they communicate it compellingly to ensure everyone is aligned and inspired to move toward the future they imagine.


Let’s state the obvious: leaders are accountable for the performance and productivity of their teams. Now, let’s acknowledge the not-so-obvious: this is easier said than done. Yes, you can learn how to set clear goals, provide resources and support, and track people’s progress. But motivating and inspiring people to achieve requires more than ticking these boxes.

Accountable leaders are inspirational leaders who understand each team member’s motivations, build a supportive environment, and provide continuous feedback and encouragement. Creating a sense of purpose, belonging, and energy can inspire your team to succeed, even in the face of challenges. But all this requires EQ, or an understanding of how to manage and utilize your emotions effectively. By recognizing and addressing your own emotional needs (in addition to those of your team members), you can build a more motivated, resilient, and inspired team.


Leaders are responsible for making critical decisions that will inevitably impact their team, the organization, and broader stakeholders. The weight of these decisions can be immense, and you need to be prepared to justify your choices. Even more importantly, you need to be prepared to stand by the outcomes, whether they’re good or bad.

Accountable leaders act with integrity. When you make decisions based on what’s right and not just what’s easy, you build trust. When others see you acting with integrity, it can create a culture of accountability where everyone feels responsible to the same high standards.


In times of uncertainty, leaders are expected to guide their organizations through turbulence. This means that you must not only make swift decisions and communicate effectively, it means you personally must be capable of adapting to changing circumstances and building resilience in yourself.

Accountable leaders are adept at navigating uncertainty. Your ability to pivot in the face of change will help your team remain focused. Even better, involving your team in problem-solving, encouraging collaboration, and fostering knowledge sharing helps to build their capabilities and allows them more opportunities to grow.


It should go without saying that leadership is about more than managing processes—it’s about engaging people. As a leader, you have a duty to create a space in which people can thrive. Tasked with the well-being of your employees, you must be compassionate to their experiences, attentive to their needs, and prepared to act in their best interests.

Empathy is critical to accountable leadership. The most effective leaders practice active listening, express genuine understanding and concern, and create an environment where people feel valued. By being compassionate and responsive to your teams’ needs, you can build stronger relationships and foster a culture where accountability is mutual.

One last thing: accepting accountability may seem virtuous, but there is such a thing as accepting too much accountability.

It can take the form of overloading yourself (potentially leading to burnout) or hoarding accountability (potentially robbing your team of growth opportunities). Effective leaders know how to delegate, share responsibility, and empower their teams to take ownership of their work and decisions, thereby creating a culture of accountability.

At Transitions Coaching, we help people explore all the factors that influence their leadership effectiveness—and readiness. Meet the Transitions Coaching team here and learn how we can help you develop the vision, inspiration, integrity, adaptability, and empathy needed to be an accountable and impactful leader.