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My candid thoughts about teams and leadership. 

You Can't Have One Without The Other

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In his famous song, “Love And Marriage,” Frank Sinatra remarked, “This I tell ya, brother, you can't have one without the other.” 

“Accountability and empowerment” isn’t nearly as melodic as “love and marriage,” so it’s not surprising that Ol’ Blue Eyes never paired the former in a song. But, when it comes to these two important elements in the workplace, you can have one without the other, … but you shouldn’t.

Empowerment Without Accountability

What happens when the people in your organization are empowered to act but the culture lacks accountability? The quick answer is low performance. Empowerment is vital. Empowered employees will exhibit a high degree of ownership and initiative. But, alone, empowerment is not enough. When everybody has the power to act but nobody is making sure action is occurring, diminished performance is the result.

James was a skilled marketing director with a maverick mentality.  When he took the reigns of the communications department at his new firm, he grabbed hold of them and didn’t look back. However, a few months down the road, his CEO had to conduct an uncomfortable conversation with James to figure out why corporate communications had veered so far off-brand. James was empowered but he wasn’t accountable and his actions had an adverse effect on the entire organization.

Accountability Without Empowerment

Some organizations pride themselves on the high degree of accountability that exists in their corporate cultures. Everyone knows his or her roles. There are well-defined processes and procedures for everything. And, leaders regularly monitor vital metrics and review employee performance. But, what happens when the workers aren’t empowered to act? Inevitably, team members begin pointing fingers and the blame gets spread far and wide. 

Stephanie was excited when her supervisor asked her to direct the highest profile program in her company. An individual with a high degree of responsibility, she committed herself to embrace the new challenge and to do so within the guidelines her boss provided. A couple of months into the role, Stephanie’s enthusiasm had virtually disappeared. The experience of running into endless red tape, coping with cumbersome written (and unwritten) policies, and wading through political dynamics caused her to wish she could return to her previous position. No matter how accountable she was, without empowerment she was simply unable to move forward.

Empowerment With Accountability

What happens when the workplace is infused with healthy and balanced doses of both empowerment and accountability? Well, that’s the recipe for high performance. A balance of empowerment and accountability is the key to unlocking the doors of compelling creativity, eager collaboration, healthy corporate culture, and excellent results.

Caroline’s reputation for leading healthy teams preceded her as she stepped into her new role as director of a growing nonprofit and she wasted no time in putting her mark on her organization. She worked diligently to build strong, trusting relationships with her board of directors and staff. She threw herself into better understanding the organization through many conversations and hours of research. She dedicated ample time to clarifying roles and outlining expectations so each person understood and owned both the mission of the organization and their unique roles in making that mission a reality. She wasn’t afraid to have uncomfortable conversations with a few people who struggled to grow beyond old habits and patterns. And, she didn’t just delegate tasks, she made sure that each person on the team had the freedom to act within the clear boundaries that she helped to establish. Through Caroline’s efforts to empower her team and to provide accountability, she led the organization into a season of unprecedented health and effectiveness.

What About You?

Does your organization tilt toward either empowerment with accountability or accountability without empowerment? If there’s a healthy balance in your organization or on your team, what are you doing to make sure that continues? Empowerment and accountability; you can have one without the other. But, when you have both, the results are incredible.

Kevin Carr is a Career Coach at Rozzi and Associates, a leadership and organizational development company helping good leaders become great! Our programs start with the premise that great leadership skills are a product of time, practice and focused development. Our leadership development, emotional intelligence insight and career management programs can be customized to meet your desired outcomes and needs.

Susan Rozzi