Why won’t my team members take more accountability?

‘Why won't they step up?’ ‘What am I paying them for?’ These questions haunt many leaders. Getting the best out of your team can be complicated, especially when it comes to people stepping up. 

Leaders often complain that their team members ‘ask for more responsibility’ but don't pick it up when it’s given. It can be frustrating and confusing. What’s going on?

One of the reasons individuals don’t step up is that the leader doesn’t step back. I mean truly step back. When there is no real responsibility for them to pick up, the team members soon learn that they are not really in charge or allowed to make real decisions. So they don’t fully embrace the invitation to do so. Or they go through the motions, but keep escalating decisions or waiting for permission. This results in frustration and confusion as to why they are not ‘being more accountable and responsible’. 

There are many ways leaders inadvertently create this behaviour, including:

  • having overly high standards or perfectionist tendencies
  • not wanting their people to make mistakes
  • never being happy with the quality of work that others produce for them (and reworking that submitted work)
  • being too experienced and therefore too quick to solve problems

3 strategies for stepping back

To get people to trust your invitation to step forward, leaders need to get out of their people’s way, and really demonstrate their sincerity with practical action. The following are ways to make room for your team to step up.

  1. Let people fail and learn from the process. Don’t protect them from their own learning because you worry it will reflect badly on you. Allow your people to take calculated risks where they can learn from their failures in a relatively safe environment.
  2. Let people make their own decisions, even if you don't agree with them or they’re not quite right. This will teach them to think for themselves and will encourage them to bring more of their ideas and thinking to the table.
  3. Let people know you don't know everything, or don’t always have the answers. This makes room for new perspectives, opinions and experiences, and validates the value of multiple contributions. Show that you need your people, and they have an important role to play in the business, or they won’t bother showing up with their full potential.

It becomes obvious when the call to step up and take more responsibility is not backed by the support, trust and space to really do so. People won’t always get it right the first time or do it the way you like it done, but the road to building that ability must start somewhere, and that somewhere is you. As a leader, we need to let go and step back so that others can step forward.

Are you ready for the challenge?