Role Call

Accountability is not an easy concept. The truth is, most people do not readily embrace accountability. When things go badly, it is easy to shift the blame to other people or circumstances. While this is understandable (people often face trials and challenges through no fault of their own), the function of leadership demands an embrace of accountability.

Good leaders must take total accountability of the whole organization—success or failure—and of team members as individuals. Accountability is all or nothing. A leader cannot be “sort of” accountable. They do not dip their toes in the accountability pool. Effective leaders are totally accountable.

What exactly does accountability equate to in the organizational context? “First and foremost, it means that you accept responsibility for the outcomes expected of you—both good and bad. You don’t blame others,” notes leadership expert Michael Hyatt in “How Real Leaders Demonstrate Accountability.” Organizational outcomes stem from the leader’s actions or choices.

“Until you take responsibility, you are a victim,” Hyatt says. “And being a victim is the exact opposite of being a leader.” Leaders do not look externally for a blame target when results are disappointing or objectives are missed. They only look inward.

With these truths in mind, high-profile school leaders should revel in the responsibility their position affords and embrace total accountability in two ways: Recognize that leadership is about others and giving credit to others.

Recognize It’s Not About You

Too often, school leaders ascend to prominent positions only to lead for their own sake. School leadership should be marked by selflessness and servant leadership, not by obtaining a bigger platform or ensuring personal needs are met. “A servant leader works tirelessly to develop his or her people and is focused on what they can do for others,” says Cheryl Williamson in “Servant Leadership: How to Put Your People Before Yourself.” In large measure, school leaders should assess their effectiveness based upon the successes of those under their leadership.

As a high-impact school leader, how can you leverage your position to maximize your positive impact on staff, students, families, and community? Consider the following: Does your daily schedule/calendar reflect service as a priority of your leadership agenda? Do your daily interactions on campus support a servant leadership posture?

Habitually Give Credit to Your Team

President Harry Truman famously stated, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

“Sometimes the better approach in a business or work setting is to let others take credit for an idea that you came up with,” notes Patrick Byron in “How Giving Credit to Others at Work Helps You Develop the Habit of Giving.” “Similarly, it’s gratifying, good for relationships, and possibly even for your career, to let others share in the credit of your successes,” Byron says. Such an approach signifies self-assuredness, authentic confidence, and a big-picture mindset. Almost paradoxically, leaders who intentionally give credit to others enjoy increased influence.

My college basketball coach used to say, “When we win, the credit goes to the players—they played great. When we lose, it is my fault as the coach—I failed us.” This was an incredibly prescient comment on leadership. In reality, any number of items could have contributed to a win or loss—foul trouble, injuries, referees, how we shot the basketball, or basic fortunes and misfortunes inherent in a sporting event. Still, in the mind of my coach, all those factors paled in comparison to his role and his responsibility to the team.

Effective school leaders adopt a similar mindset. In times of success, they push credit and applause onto others. They eschew adulation and instead redirect praise to those under their leadership. When outcomes are not positive, they take ownership, reflecting on why the results were not better and devising a plan to ensure the next initiative is more successful.

As a highly influential school leader, to what degree do you actively give credit away to others? How readily do you accept complete responsibility for a failure within your school, division, or team? Would members of your staff be able to provide examples of when they received credit and recognition for school successes directly from you?

By recognizing that leadership requires an others-centered mindset and by habitually giving credit away, high-impact school leaders are more likely to embrace total accountability. When this occurs, schools experience better outcomes and leaders enjoy increased influence and credibility.


Matt Trammell is director of admissions at the Bullis School in Potomac, MD.

Professional Learning Network: Follow other high-impact school leaders by using the hashtag #HighImpactSchoolLeader on Twitter.


Sidebar: Building Ranks™ Connections

Dimension: Ethics

You can model ethical values through your own personal conduct. As the school leader, you are likely to face some substantial ethical dilemmas. In those situations, your decisions and actions will be particularly important—not just for the resolution of the issue at hand, but also as a teachable moment to demonstrate ethical choices and behavior.

Ethics is part of the Building Culture domain of Building Ranks.