Beyond Servant Leadership: Accountability Leadership

Beyond Servant Leadership: Accountability Leadership

By Gerald A. Kraines, M.D., Chairman and CEO

The concept of servant leadership restates the essence of the psychological contract, first coined by Dr. Harry Levinson, founder of The Levinson Institute.  The definition of psychological contract is straightforward:

All employees want to be successful, valued, and trusted, and all employers want the same in return from their employees.  When managers work hard to meet these universal human needs of their employees, they earn the active, enthusiastic commitment and loyalty of their people to reciprocate.

Levinson and Co. research over the past 50 years has identified the universal working conditions necessary for employees to be successful in their roles and in their careers.  When these conditions exist and employees experience “receiving value,” they then enthusiastically commit to “delivering value” back to their managers and organization.

These universal working conditions include:

  • Personal security
    Safe and healthy working conditions
    Viable organizational future
  • Personal value
    Meaningful and purposeful work
    Challenging work
    Development of one’s potential
    Mature working relationships
  • Value-adding leadership
    Definition and modeling of common purpose and value
    Communication (two-way) about intentions and accountabilities
    Resources and processes with which to succeed
    Recognition and fair reward for one’s contribution
  • A values-based culture
    Trust, respect, justice, and mature values

What is missing in the literature of servant leadership is that all employees work within an accountability framework, namely accountability hierarchies.  While there will always be implicit expectations between managers and their employees in their human relationship (described above in the psychological contract), there are also explicit expectations:

  • Each employee—once making a commitment—must “keep his or her word, without surprising others” and
  • Each employee—once understanding the value expected to be delivered in the role—will “earn his or her keep.”

Furthermore, managers are accountable for ensuring that their subordinate employees both “keep their word” and “earn their keep.”  So managers must clearly articulate to their people what is expected and continually assess how well they are meeting their accountabilities.

This accountability manager-subordinate relationship, therefore, must exceed and surpass the human manager-subordinate relationship.  Nevertheless, highly effective managers do establish trust-inducing and fair human relationships in order to earn their employees’ enthusiastic commitment.

Servant leadership is a means to an end.  It is the means for enlisting strong motivation from employees to deliver value to an organization.  The goal, however, is accountably delivering that value.  The Levinson Institute has been at the forefront of researching and developing value-adding accountability leadership for 50 years.

You can read much more about aligning an entire leadership system with strategy in my book, Accountability Leadership.