In the Absence of Clarity There is No Accountability

A leader’s number one job is to create clarity. Leaders who fail to create clarity will struggle with holding their people accountable because their people will choose to perform the activities that fit closest to their current comfort zone.

Today’s post is by Hamish Knox, author of Accountability the Sandler Way (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Stop reading if you’ve never said or heard this from a leader, “but I thought they knew what they were supposed to do!”

A leader’s number one job is to create clarity in their organization. Lack of clarity leads to lack of accountability and ultimately frustration and conflict.

As much as we’d like to think we aren’t, humans are animals. Social animals. In the wild social animals are led by an alpha who provides guidance (usually in the form of violence) on what is acceptable behavior in the pack.

Animals also have no capacity to process language so all of their clues about what is acceptable and how to be accountable come from the alpha’s behavior.

When an alpha (in the wild or in business) is unclear about the behavior that is acceptable and/or the consequences for not showing the right behaviors, the animals in their group will demonstrate the behaviors that they believe the alpha wants. If the alpha doesn’t punish or correct those behaviors, their group members will continue doing those activities until their alpha erupts with frustration, which they caused.

With humans, our team members filter the behaviors they believe their leader wants from them through the filter of their hopes, dreams, fears, and comfort zone. A recurring theme in my coaching sessions with the leaders I work with is “why aren’t my people doing (behavior expected)?!” The answer is usually “because they didn’t know you wanted them to do that and that behavior is outside their current comfort zone.”

In the context of executing a project, a lack of clarity from the leader creates roadblocks to successful completion because the project team isn’t sure of their accountabilities.

Our clients find the “RACI” structure works well for creating clarity with project teams. “RACI” breaks down to those who are:

Responsible – team members who are actively involved in executing the project. As the project moves from planning to completion the team members in this box will change.

Accountable – the individual who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the project. There can be only one person in this box. If there is more than one person in the “accountable” box there is lack of clarity and an opportunity for one or all in this box to deflect accountability to the others. When a cross functional team is working on a project the person who is in the accountable box must also be given the authority to hold the rest of the team accountable to their commitments and apply consequences as appropriate.

Consulted – individuals who have expertise that would benefit the project, but who aren’t directly “responsible” or “accountable.”

Informed – individuals who have no involvement other than receiving information about progress and results.

Many leaders I speak with believe that implied authority is sufficient for their project teams. It is for creating interpersonal conflict that could impact their business long after the project is completed.

Recently implied authority impacted one of my clients who was working on a major project. Three leaders of functional units were on the project team. Two kept missing deadlines that they agreed to publicly. The third, who was frustrated with lack of progress on the project, asked the others when they should expect the deadlines to be met and was told “you’re not my boss.”

Leaders who fail to create clarity with their people then wonder why their people aren’t being accountable need to turn the mirror around and analyze where they went offside in supporting their team. Using a structure like RACI creates clarity and enables accountability.

Accountability the Sandler Way

Hamish Knox is author of Accountability the Sandler Way (CLICK HERE to get your copy) and plays an important role in Sandler Training’s worldwide organization. He is a recognized business development expert specializing in executive sales consulting and sales productivity training. Knox heads a Sandler training center in Calgary. For more information, please visit

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