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Empowering Accountability in Leadership Communication

There is a common misconception that effective communication is a formal activity, such as a manager conducting a town hall meeting. Further, communication is thought to be what a specific functional group does. That is, communication is what our ‘communications department’ is responsible for.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Communication is a primary responsibility of anyone who seeks to be a leader. Communication is how leaders accomplish their work, including creating accountability which empowers others. Leadership occurs in communication. Leadership involves engaging and inspiring others to act in ways which produce extraordinary results. Absent effective communication there is little to no leadership.

Empowering Accountability

Among the ways leaders engage and inspire others to act is establishing Empowering Accountability. This is an expression of leadership in which employees are given direction and guidance with clear understanding of their purpose and boundaries for inventing and taking risks. Extraordinary results seldom happen when organizations “do what we have always done”. No, achieving the extraordinary requires employees “stepping out” with creativity, innovation, inspiration and prudent risk taking. Employees in most organizations will not step out like that unless they know their leaders “have their back”. Empowering Leadership is precisely how leaders watch their employees backs and encourage the desired risk taking.

Leadership communication and Empowering Accountability go hand in hand. Leaders communicate and make decisions with openness and straightforward disclosure, in contrast to using only “need-to-know” communication. Leaders are acknowledged for talking straight and telling us as much as possible about what we are doing, why we are doing it, what it will mean to me, and how it will benefit our business performance. Accountable leaders act from a commitment to be answerable to their constituents.

Acknowledge Mistakes Without Blame

Leaders also acknowledge the difference between good choices and poor ones. They are in communication about these poor choices and the consequences on the business. This open communication is at the same time complementary and supportive of the innovation and intent of those who made these choices which are later regretted. Of course, that is not the case if those involved in making the decisions were devious and acting with ill will.

At the beginning of an organizational transformation, the leaders often need to address actions and decisions from the past which are now causing issues for the business. Blame should NEVER be part of these leadership conversation. Rather what is needed is a clear, concise statement of what happened. In most cases, the employees are already aware of the circumstances. Yet, something magical happens when the leaders stand and be accountable for past events, even if the leaders were in no way involved. The point to establish is that we will communicate directly our understanding of what happens, will not issue blame, and will support our people’s creativity, innovation and risk taking. This is crucial positioning for both leadership communication and Empowering Accountability.

Leading to Breakthrough Projects

This positioning is important because in most Breakthrough Projects and organizational transformations there will be dramatic moments when something did not go as planned. Leader’s ask the right questions, and their conversations must focus on what was learned and how can it be used going forward. This is in direct contrast to the typical management investigation in the form of “who is to blame?” and “how do we make sure this never happens again?”.

The leadership approach assumes full accountability for events and based on that seeks to promote organizational learning and possible breakthroughs which can occur only through an empowering inquiry into the events. This leadership approach will promote action and learning. In contrast, the typical management approach ends up focusing on who to blame, how to punish that individual and group, and writing additional processes and procedures in hopes of preventing any future recurrence. While common and well-intended, this management approach actually has harmful effects. Blaming and punishing people has a suppressive impact on willingness to create, innovate and take risks. Further, the new procedures usually add onto existing procedures and increase the complexity for employees. Many companies’ procedures have become so complex and voluminous that have the unintended impact of being a burden for employees rather than an asset.

Leader’s establishing Empowering Accountability, which supports employees’ creativity, innovation and risk-taking, is a key enabler of breakthroughs and organizational transformation. These leaders provide a platform for employees to learn, grow and ultimately become leaders themselves.


If you want to learn more about what characteristics and roles leadership plays in the success of any organization, download our whitepaper: ‘Successful Strategic Execution Begins With Leaders’.

In it, you will learn:

  • The two hallmarks of an effective leader
  • The most crucial value for leaders to possess
  • The greatest contribution a leader provides
  • The most valuable ‘tool’ for a leader to wield

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