The word "accountability" gets a bad rap in business circles. We often associate it with blame or punishment, making leaders hesitant to talk about it, let alone put it into action on their teams. But it doesn't have to be like that.

In her book Unstuck: Reframe Your Thinking to Free Yourself From the Patterns and People That Hold You Back, author and TEDx speaker Lia Garvin proposes an alternative perspective for leaders and managers to think about accountability on teams.

Shift to a mindset of an owner

To bring this leadership perspective to life, Garvin suggests considering the metaphor of owning versus renting a home. For example, when you're renting an apartment and something breaks, you call the landlord. They hire the repair person, and they ultimately foot the bill. When you're the owner, it's on you -- not only because you're ultimately responsible, but because you take pride in the home you own, and want the repair to be done right. On teams, the leader's goal is to shift the employees' mindsets from that of a renter to that of an owner, empowering team members to be proactive about solving problems they're faced with and taking full responsibility for the outcomes. 

Set expectations

Managers set the tone of accountability by demonstrating that they trust their team members to be owners, setting clear expectations, and then letting them own the solution. "Without clear expectations, everyone is guessing at what each other wants ... and in distributed teams where we might not see our managers or team members regularly, this becomes even riskier," says Garvin. She encourages leaders to set the context around expectations, and help connect the dots for team members on how their work fits into the broader goals of the organization. This reduces any feelings of micromanagement around tasks and reminds team members that their work is a critical piece to the overall success of the team. 

Reduce burnout

Garvin reminds us that perhaps the most important reason for creating a culture of accountability on a team is to reduce burnout, both for employees and for leaders. When leaders roll up their sleeves and solve every problem that comes their way, without questioning if they are the right person to be solving it, they will quickly become overextended and burned out. And the employees? They get demotivated and question their future on the team because they don't feel trusted to solve the hard problems. Instead of solving, leaders can empower their team members by embracing a coaching mindset when a team member comes to them with a problem, asking open-ended questions like "What do you think might be getting in your way?" or "What's another way to look at this?"

The combination of these actions allows leaders to reframe their relationship with accountability and ultimately leave team members feeling like owners, not only for their work but also for their careers as a whole.