Tag Archives: compact

Accountability Leads to Innovation: 5 Requirements for Setting Clear Expectations

It may seem counter-intuitive to some, but a culture of accountability can lead to a culture of innovation. Our research has shown that successful leaders make their expectations very clear, hold themselves accountable for follow-up, and recognize others for their accomplishments.

If leaders make their expectations clear and describe the desired outcome, then others feel pride in achievement.

When others see how the request fits into the big picture, it inspires them to want to get it done and do more. More than just engagement, clear expectations and accountability generate employee commitment.

Masterpiece Exemplar

Everyone knows that we provide them with the details of what they have to do and if they do those things, they will be successful. There are no gray areas. But this isn’t just about being nice to their employees – leaders make their expectations very clear and hold their staff accountable for this high level of performance. They give them a way to do their job that happens beautifully and naturally. They have confidence in their employee’s abilities and because of that, set high expectations for them. This makes it possible for the environmental services department at Fairview Hospital to achieve even greater goals than the staff had ever dreamed was possible. They are proud of their efforts and success, and it shows.

Excerpt from: Masterpieces in Leadership: Cases & Analysis for Best Practice

If you make your expectations clear, others will take pride in achievement and be inspired to do more.

Unclear Expectations

When others do not follow through with what is expected of them, leaders should resist the urge to question, “Why did that happen?” Asking ‘why’ only leads to blame. A culture of accountability is not about blame and it is not about getting angry. It is about getting people committed to do what you have asked them to do. If they are not following through, it means the expectation is not clear.

Instead of asking why, leaders should stop, slow down, and ask, “How did I let that happen?”
  • What did I ask the other person to do?
  • Was I clear?
  • Why was it important?
  • Was it a reasonable request?
  • Did the other person understand the “what,” “why,” and “how?”

Clear Expectations

There is a distinction between having an expectation and setting a clear expectation. Setting clear expectations leaves no uncertainty around results. As leaders become clear with their expectations and others follow suit, a culture of accountability will emerge. Consider the following 5 factors to be clear about your expectations:

Is the expectation:
  1. Relevant? Is it consistent with the big picture?
  2. Reasonable? Is it realistic with current resources & capacity?
  3. Straightforward? Is it simple & clear enough to understand?
  4. Measurable/Observable? Will progress be visible?
  5. Scheduled for inspection? Is there a date/plan for reviewing progress?

Questions to Deepen Thinking

How is holding others accountable working for you?
What are the consequences of not following up about expectations?
What would happen if you started recognizing others for meeting expectations using ongoing regard?


Connors, R. & Smith, T. (2009). How did that happen? Holding people accountable for results the positive, principled way. New York: The Penguin Group.
Kegan, R. &. Lahey, L. (2001). How the way we talk can change the way we work: Seven languages for transformation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Pelote,V. & Route, L. (2007). Masterpieces in leadership: Cases & analysis for best practice. Boston: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Related Posts

Ongoing Regard: Boost the Power of your Thank You

Thinking Partners: A Concept and a Compact

Leaders should not underestimate the importance of Thinking Partners as they embark on new ways of learning and leading. As they continuously re-examine traditional leadership practices and test new mental models, leaders become vulnerable. Thinking Partners provides the structured reflection and safe means to evaluate leadership practices.

Thinking Partners is not simply a person or a role, but rather a concept that includes the roles of both partners and the structure of the conversation. It can be defined as a structured, thinking-sharing-listening-reflecting session in which:

  • one person thinks out loud
  • the other person listens and asks questions to deepen thinking

Thinking Partners is a Concept & a Compact

Thinking Partners is a Concept & a Compact in which two people engage in mutual inquiry while practicing empathy
Select a Thinking Partner

Look in your circle of influence for someone you are comfortable with. You and your thinking partner should:

  1. share mutual trust
  2. genuinely care for each other as individuals
  3. be able to support each other’s commitment statement
Agree on Structure

Thinking partner sessions are best done in person, but can be done in a video format like FaceTime or Skype. As a last resort you may speak by telephone. You and your thinking partner should agree to:

  1. practice empathy
  2. engage in mutual inquiry

What will you “think “about during the sessions? Possible topics are:

  • reaction to things you are trying
  • reflection on actions you have taken
  • new ideas you are considering
  • concerns you have
  • things you are avoiding

As you think out loud, your partner will listen with intent and then pose questions to deepen your thinking and offer you new perspectives.

Questions to Deepen your Thinking

  • Do you routinely include structured reflection in your work?
  • Do you ask others for help in “thinking things through”?
  • Do you look to others for new perspectives or to shift your thinking?

Related Posts

Mutual Inquiry: 8 Steps to Deepen & Shift Thinking
Transformational vs. Transactional: 2 Things a Leader Needs
Setting Meaningful Goals: 3 Components of a Commitment
The DOs and DON’Ts of Curious Listening: Tell Me More


Goleman, D. (2013, December). The Focused Leader:How effective executives direct their own – and their organization’s – attention. Harvard Business Review.
Knowles, M. (1984). The Adult learner: A neglected species. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.