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What Does Accountability Really Mean?

Hand writing the word accountability

July 1, 2016

By: Brian Hughes

The term “accountability” is used so frequently in the business world that it is often demoted to buzzword status. On the surface, accountability may seem like a given—a general awareness that everyone has. However, leaders must exemplify accountability with a deeper understanding of how it is directly related to culture, performance, and success.


Accountability has three tiers:

  • First, it means doing what you say you’re going to do.
  • Second, it includes accepting responsibility if you are for some reason unsuccessful.
  • Third, it drives the discussion for meeting or modifying an objective after failure.

While simply showing up for work every day demonstrates accountability, it takes a much greater commitment to develop a healthy and truly impactful level of accountability within a team.

The Outward Verbalization

Accountability is a pillar of organizational success. Leaders are responsible for creating an environment where accountability is a sparkplug and not a threat.

When a leader visibly and verbally makes accountability a top priority, it becomes understood that everyone is accountable, including the leader. This helps to convey the meaningfulness of goals and minimize the fear of being “singled out” that many employees have. We all come up short of our goals sometimes. When we do, accountability enables us to work toward successes and overcome challenges rather than dwelling on failures. 

The Ongoing Internal Dialogue

Accountability enters our lives at a young age. When a kindergartener quiets down during story time, it’s a moment of accountability. Even though they aren’t cognizant of why exactly they are quieting down for story time, they understand that the expectation is for them to act appropriately.

By the time we’re in the professional world, we innately grasp the idea of accountability and—just like the kindergartener during story time—act accordingly, perhaps without realizing that it is accountability causing us to do so. In a workplace where accountability has been vocalized and demonstrated, employees become more aware of how accountability affects their actions. They will constantly ask themselves questions such as:

  • Am I performing to the best of my ability?
  • Am I giving my teammates the maximum effort?
  • Am I utilizing all of the resources available to me?
  • Am I helping the team?

It’s easy to be consumed with the “daily grind.” As a leader, have you asked yourself these questions lately? Doing so will instantly heighten your own sense of accountability, which will radiate to your team. 

Why Teams Thrive on Accountability

People often say that sports are a microcosm of society, and in a fast-paced industry like hospitality, the likeness to sports is undeniable.

Consider any championship team, in any sport, and you will see a pinnacle level of accountability. The Chicago Bulls won six championships in the 1990s because Coach Phil Jackson held himself accountable for outsmarting the competition, while Michael Jordan held himself and his teammates accountable for outworking the competition.

When everyone holds themselves and others accountable, it’s accepted that individual performance matters and is measured as part of the team’s success or failure. The key is that everyone has to buy in. There was not one member of those Chicago Bulls teams who did not embrace accountability. In order for your team to perform to its full potential, there needs to be a 100% accountability buy-in.

HTM Develops Accountable, Successful Leaders

Between the remote independent work and the team projects, the Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) Master’s Program at San Diego State University provides the ideal atmosphere for developing accountability as a personal strength. What better motivator is there than working alongside professionals from all over the world who are investing in themselves and dedicating their time in order to become better leaders? See how the HTM Master’s Program can change your life.

Brian Hughes Author: Brian Hughes, Executive Director at San Diego Tourism Marketing District (LinkedIn)

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