This is the fifth in a suite of five articles exploring the art of delegating. This one focuses on the two-way nature of accountability. The person doing the delegating has to make the accountability and consequences clear and the delegee has to accept the accountability and consequences.

Delegation Framework

The art of delegating has four components: direction, resources, bounded authority and accountability.

  1. DIRECTION/intent – what, why and interdependencies
  2. RESOURCES (financial, information, operations/technical, people, time) – specific
  3. AUTHORITY to make tactical decisions within strategic boundaries/guidelines – balanced
  4. ACCOUNTABILITY and consequences of success and failure – owned

Accountability and Consequences

People say they want to be accountable. Most don’t mean it. What they do mean is that they want to make their own choices without having anyone second guess them. They’d like positive reinforcement and consequences almost no matter what they do and especially if they do well. They don’t want negative consequences ever.

Core Focus, Block & Tackling, Accountability

Gotham Consulting’s Deepak Agrawal has a simple but powerful framework for helping companies create value: 1) Focus on the Core, 2) Blocking and tackling, 3) Accountability.

Focus on the Core way the company creates value for its customers. As I wrote earlier, focusing on your core is almost always the right choice. Every company designs, produces, delivers and serves to different degrees. Part of focusing on your core is understanding which of those is most important.

Blocking and tackling: Resource processes, systems and people to support the core from the ground up, de-layering, simplifying, and cutting everything else. Get rid of all the things that get in the way of the front-line people doing their core jobs. Get rid of the layers. Get rid of complexity. Get rid of people, processes and things that create more friction than acceleration.

Accountability: Put in place clear, single-point accountability with metrics and Key Business Indicators, regular tracking and follow up. The closer the accountability can be to the people doing the core ground level blocking and tackling, the better.

No excuses

One CEO had delegated an important project to two people. They prepared their plans and got agreement from the entire executive team. The CEO did not stop there. She went around the table, looked each executive in the eye one by one and asked them “Are you prepared to give these two your full support?”

Each gave an unqualified “Yes”

Then she turned back to the two accountable people and said, “Your proposal is accepted. Each of these leaders has committed their full support. Deliver and you will be rewarded appropriately. Fail and you will be terminated.” It was what they wanted.

Let me do the job you hired me to do

One of my clients told his boss “Let me do the job you hired me to do. If I don’t deliver, throw me to the curb.”

The point is that accountability has to be a two-way street. The person delegating authority has to be clear on the positive and negative consequences of success or failure. And the people seeking and accepting authority have to accept those consequences. This last is the hard part.

Extreme Ownership

In their excellent book, “Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin urge leaders to take ownership for all elements of their mission, and not place blame on others.

No excuses. It takes a team. If the team succeeds, all deserve credit. If the team fails – for any reason – look to the leader first. Truly accountable leaders take accountability for all aspects of the mission. They hold themselves accountable for providing clear direction and intent, for making sure all have the specific resources they need to succeed, for delegating bounded authority so their team members can do what needs to get done. And they welcome the consequences of success and failure.


At one level, accountability is about making clear how people are going to be called to account, what, exactly they are to deliver, by when, with what milestones, consequences and check-in points

The check-in points go to leash management, the more confidence you have in the people to which you are delegating, the more leash, the more freedoms, the more time between check-ins.

But accountability is a two-way street. It must be delegated and owned.

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