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Christian Leadership Matters: Accountability Trumps Ambiguity

Posted in Accountability, Christian Leadership Matters, Commitment, and Team Building

(Let’s call him) Pastor “Right;” he was not known for his approachability. He considered himself “professional,” but most people just thought he was too full of himself. He was not to be disturbed by unannounced visits, no one would dare laugh during worship (unless they were given the que to do so), if there were children in the worship service, they were to be seen but not heard.

During midweek Advent service one year Pastor Right was reading the Bible lesson at the lectern. Suspended over the lectern was the Advent Wreath crafted together from local pine branches by the incredibly creative Altar Guild ladies.

Midway through the Gospel reading hot wax from the candle broke through the side and started dripping wax and fire onto the wreath. Soon there was quite a cozy Advent fire right above Pastor Right’s head. No one was sure whether he kept on reading because he considered it the “right” and “professional” thing to do or whether he just didn’t notice the Pentecostal aurora floating over his head.

Here’s the question: Whose job is it to alert Pastor Right of the imminent danger? The Elder’s job? A Trustee? How about the Acolyte?

You already know the better answer: Everyone has the obligation to do something constructive; get the fire extinguisher, alert the Pastor, move people away from any danger, call the fire department. . . something!

Most people just stared as if they were on holy ground before the burning bush. All because they all knew Pastor Right’s initial response was going to be irritation that someone had the nerve to disrupt the Divine service and no one wanted to be a first responder and be the target of his displeasure.


Most Pastors are GREAT people, by the way, and even Pastor Right became quite a wonderful Pastor once he settled in to his new position. But our topic today doesn’t focus on the Pastor in this story, it focuses on the congregation and their responsibility in this odd (but ultimately entertaining) scene; we’re focusing on a word that often creates fear in the hearts of mortal humans. . . “Accountability,” and the follow-up, “who’s job is it?”

This is the fourth of five topics based on Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni eloquently discusses team dysfunction and the title of his chapter is “Avoidance of Accountability.” I think we can all agree that avoidance of accountability is a common dysfunctional behavior. We can also agree that if we were better at accountability our organization would be much more successful.

What is Accountability?

The online Business Dictionary defines accountability as: “The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.

Accountability is an obligation; as Christian leaders we are duty-bound to create a culture of accountability. Accountability is central to being a leader. In regards to our leadership position, leaders must account for his/her own activities and the activity of the groups we lead. Leadership is about accepting responsibility and about inviting others into a clearly articulated vision for the future of the organizations we lead.

What happens if we don’t have healthy accountability?

If a leader fails to set the stage for healthy accountability, it just won’t happen. In the absence of healthy accountability group morale is compromised, resentment builds among team members with widely-varied expectations, and the group suffers from poor performance.

When there IS healthy accountability team members are motivated to do their best work, meetings are more effective (because it is more probable that important issues get priority), meetings are more efficient (most meetings do NOT need to last 3 hours!), deep respect is build among team members over time, the focus on the organization can be where it should be (on people rather than on rules, regulations, and procedures).

How do we create a culture of healthy accountability?

Step one, build deep trust. (Click the link to read the first article in this series.) Your objective is to build trust: in yourself as leader, in your Board and other leaders, and in the mission of the organization. Without deep and sincere trust, nothing good will happen.

Step two, create an atmosphere of constructive conflict. Your objective is to create a culture of open, honest, creative and highly innovative team members who are willing to take risks in order to accomplish the organization’s mission. You need people to openly share the good, bad, and even the ugly in order to acquire the necessary information to make informed decisions.

Step three, cultivate high-commitment buy-in by everyone on your team. This builds on the first two steps and culminates in a cohesive team able to speak with ONE voice and demonstrate lazer-focus on the mission.

Accountability in ministry or business is the ability of each individual as well as the group to make commitments and consistently follow through on those commitments. In healthy organizations individuals allow themselves to be accountable to the other members of the team. And the group has the attitude “one for all and all for one” as they have become a highly cohesive team (not a group of free-agents).

Some Principles Conducive to Creating a Culture of Accountability

Accountability is everyone’s job. If accountability is solely the leader’s job, there are at least two unfortunate consequences: 1) the leader becomes “The Enforcer,” and that diminishes his/her role as vision-caster, encourager, developer, innovator, etc. 2) The leader being the sole enforcer also diminishes effectiveness of the team allowing some (or all) a way to avoid contributing to the success of the team; they can “relax” and watch the enforcer do his/her thing. That’s not healthy.

Each team member must be so dedicated to the mission that they are willing to hold each other accountable for performance and behavior. The mission is what’s important, not titles, not who gets credit, not advancing personal perspectives. This is, no doubt, difficult! It takes a shift in perspective from “we’re all friends here” to “we’re all teammates working together to accomplish the mission.” Leaders need to help cultivate a culture of the importance of The Mission.

Accountability is about intense respect. Holding one another accountable respects the Mission, the other team members, the leader, and most importantly, Christ Jesus Himself. With healthy accountability there is no room for a spirit of criticism. Accountability is about helping every single team member become the best they can be in Christ. Therefore, a Christ-like attitude is of primary importance when holding one another accountable.

The enemy of accountability is ambiguity. Your organization must have clear, well-articulated vision and goals.

Therefore: Never hold a meeting “just because” you’re suppose to hold a meeting; have a well crafted agenda, an agenda that moves your team toward the fulfillment of your organization’s vision and in alignment with your mission.

Therefore: Set and publish clear goals, standards, expectations. Post them if you can. Make it possible for your team to refer to them so we can be accountable to what has been decided. Make sure we’re always moving toward stated goals (and, when necessary, strategically modify your goals).

Make Accountability part of your organization’s culture.  The beginning steps are outlined above. Culture is shared vocabulary, behaviors, and values. The leader teaches their teams the language of accountability, models that behavior as leader, and lives by those same values. Simply, a culture of accountability helps people embrace the idea that we ALL have a stake in outcomes. When one bleeds, we all bleed; when one crosses the finish line, we all cross the finish line. For many organizations, that’s a culture shift.

Use Accountability Tools. There are tools aplenty all over the internet. Choose ones that work for you such as the Gantt Flow Chart, Organizational Charts, Lines of Authority/Communication charts, etc. A simple accountability chart is the “3-W” Chart (example):

What Who When
Start 3 Small Groups for parents of 7th grade confirmation. Eliza Smith Class starts September 3rd
— Step 1; disciple 5 adult leaders. . . Eliza Smith Orientation starts August 5th

Accountability worksheets must be published to be effective. Some accountability worksheets might be published for team members only, others for the whole organization (eg: staff, department, congregation, etc.). As much as possible, accountability must be “objective” as opposed to “subjective.” A subjective assessment is: “That looks fine to me.” An objective assessment is: “Our target was 25 people starting October 1st; we achieved 23.” This isn’t always possible, but where it is possible, consider hard numbers, facts, dates, and other measurable data.

Open, Transparent Communication. It is highly important to communicate openly with everyone in your organization — NO SECRETS!  We’re not talking about “confidential” information (that is not “secret” but “confidential,” there’s a difference). Especially when there is a deficit of trust in an organization, as much as humanly possible EVERYTHING MUST BE TRANSPARENT. In the absence of good reliable truth, people will make up their own “data.” The Bible has a LOT to say about the sin of gossip (a topic for a future article); it’s unfortunate but will happen. If you are seeking to cultivate a healthy and God-pleasing organization, you must cultivate deep trust and this can only happen when the leaders are willing to be open and vulnerable.

Utilize Cascading Communication. Lencioni highly recommends Cascading Communication for organizations of any size as it’s infinitely scalable. Here’s how it works:

  1. The team (or Board) along with the leader (CEO, Pastor, Principal, etc.) agrees on “the message” that needs dissemination. For example, the Board meets and makes 5 important organizational decisions. The leader and team decide on what needs to be communicated and creates the official message.
  2. That message is shared with “the next level” in the organization within the next 24 to 48 hours. In a congregation, that message might be shared with each Board and ministry team leader (Stewardship chair, Evangelism chair, Small Group ministry leader, Worship team leader, etc.).
  3. Those leaders, in turn, share that same message to those on their team (the “chair” shares with their board, committee, or ministry team). If there are people that work with each of those boards (such as Parents of the School Board, ministry teams that report to one of the Boards, etc.), that same message is then shared with them.
  4. This continues on until everyone in the organization received the same message. Ideally, this is still within the 24 to 48 hour timeline.

The Principle here: Information is to be communicated consistently, quickly, and personally.

The benefits are many, including: leadership is forced to be clear and concise on what they all agreed on (if there is ambiguity, that is addressed prior to messaging), everyone hears the same message which creates confidence and trust, allows decisions to be implemented more quickly and effectively, and helps promote buy-in around decisions.

As with all these building blocks of effective organizational leadership, some of this is “science,” and some is “art.” Since God is the ONE who Called you to leadership, we have everything we need to lead people in a way that pleases God and edifies His people; the only other thing we need is practice — to steal another marketing phrase, “just do it.” Much of what we learn is ONLY ultimately “learned” by doing. . . and sometimes failing, but by God’s grace, always making progress.

If you would like to discuss this or any other of my articles, please contact me. If you are looking for a speaker for an upcoming event, would like to book a coaching session, or would like help with congregational transformation, please contact me via the website or by email.

May God richly bless each of you who have responded to God’s calling and seek to serve Him through the ministry of Christian leadership! Until next week!


Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

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