In working with church leadership, I find there is one word that challenges leaders more than anything else. That word is accountability. The word accountability seems to conjure up all types of negative emotions and misunderstandings. Accountability often instantly brings up thoughts of punishment, discipline, retribution, or consequences. It is sometimes referred to as being too “corporate” of a term or practice to be used in the church. Depending on the church, team, or individuals, the reaction to the practice of accountable leadership varies.
What is accountable leadership? Accountable leadership is really quite a simple leadership approach. The practice of accountable leadership is giving a person responsibility and authority for a task or job and holding the person accountable for carrying it out. Problems occur when a leader is given responsibility without authority. An even greater issue is when leaders are given authority and/or responsibility and there is absolutely no accountability.
Why are leaders resistant to the practice of accountable leadership? Most often when there is resistance to accountable leadership, there is a misunderstanding of the practice. The second most common reason for the resistance is someone of authority has misused accountable leadership causing the current leader to have a bad experience and expectation. The third most common reason for accountability resistance is ignorance. People simply do not know what they don’t know. Therefore, they imagine all sorts of negative methods of how accountability is used. And the fourth and final common reason is that leaders do not want to have to answer the hard questions nor do the hard work that accountability requires.
What is the cost of resisting accountable leadership? The cost can be vast, deep, and potentially devastating to a congregation. Those costs can vary from context to context depending on the amount of misalignment, dysfunction, and depth of lacking accountability. However, there are some common issues that arise when accountability is absent. The most common cost is lack of mission momentum and accomplishment. If no one is asking how we are moving forward toward fulfilling the mission, then it is likely not the focus of leaders. Further costs include an unhealthy culture, lack of leaders, absence of missional impact and fulfillment, church decline, and distrust (to name a few).
What can an investment in accountable leadership provide? The return on investment in accountable leadership provides clarity in expectations and outcomes. This in turn increases efficiency and effectiveness of staff and teams with aligned resources toward missional impact. When accountability is practiced, there is a positive culture and team spirit. When a leader is stuck, accountability questions of support and problem-solving are asked to assist the leader in moving forward and breaking through barriers. When practiced with healthy leaders, accountability fosters a culture of transparency, engaged leaders and teams, resilient and vital congregations who are working together towards common goals, and churches aimed towards missional impact.
Accountability is Biblical! Accountability is a Christian and Wesleyan core value. John Wesley created Band and Class Meeting questions for the members of the Methodist movement to ensure they were all growing as a key part of their discipleship journey. And, here are just a couple of scriptures (there are many) calling us to accountability.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves. Hebrews 4:13
Where can leaders find practical accountable leadership resources? If your leaders are looking for practical resources for accountable leadership, check out the complimentary Accountability Video. This video demonstrates the use of peer-to-peer and member-to-pastor accountable leadership during a mock board meeting. For those who are serving on a Committee on Nominations and Leadership Development, take a look at this on-demand training video. Accountability should really start with leadership development at the nominations level and this training helps unpack how to begin shifting that culture. For board/council members, here is an on-demand training series that ties together authority, responsibility, and accountability. It is important for board leaders to model accountable leadership for the congregation.