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Hamish Knox


In the Absence of Clarity, There Is No Accountability

Leaders who fail to create clarity will succeed in creating failure

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 13:03

Have you ever heard a leader say, “I thought they knew what they were supposed to do?” Have you ever said that about those you lead? Either situation should make us cringe.

Leaders’ No. 1 job is to create clarity in their organizations. Lack of clarity leads to lack of accountability and, ultimately, frustration and conflict.

As much as we’d like to think we aren’t, humans are animals. Social animals. In the wild social animals are led by an alpha who provides guidance (usually in the form of violence) on what is acceptable behavior in the pack.

Animals also have little capacity to process language, so all of their clues about what is acceptable and how to be accountable come from the alpha’s behavior.

When an alpha—in the wild or in business—is unclear about the behavior that is acceptable and the consequences for not showing the right behaviors, the animals in the group will demonstrate the behaviors they believe the alpha wants. If the alpha doesn’t punish or correct those behaviors, their group members will continue doing those activities until their alpha erupts with frustration, which the alpha actually caused.

With humans, our team members filter the behaviors they believe their leader wants from them through their hopes, dreams, fears, and comfort zones. A recurring theme in my coaching sessions with leaders I work with is, “Why aren’t my people doing [behavior expected]?!” The answer is usually, “Because they didn’t know you wanted them to do that, and that behavior is outside of their current comfort zone.”

In the context of executing a project, a lack of clarity from the leader creates roadblocks to successful completion because the project team isn’t sure of its accountabilities.

Our clients find the RACI structure works well for creating clarity with project teams. The RACI acronym breaks down to those who are:

Responsible: Team members who are actively involved in executing the project. As the project moves from planning to completion, team members in this segment will change.

Accountable: The individual who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the project. There can be only one person in this segment. If there is more than one person who is accountable, there is lack of clarity and an opportunity for one or all in this segment to deflect accountability to the others. When a cross-functional team is working on a project, the person who is in the accountable segment must also be given the authority to hold the rest of the team accountable to their commitments and apply consequences as appropriate.

Consulted: Individuals who have expertise that would benefit the project, but who aren’t directly responsible or accountable

Informed: Individuals who have no involvement other than receiving information about progress and results

Many leaders I speak with believe that implied authority is sufficient for their project teams. Rather, it is sufficient for creating interpersonal conflict that could impact their business long after the project is completed.

Recently, implied authority affected one of my clients who was working on a major project. Three leaders of functional units were on the project team. Two kept missing deadlines that they agreed to publicly. The third, who was frustrated with lack of progress on the project, asked the others when they should expect the deadlines to be met and was told, “You’re not my boss.”

Leaders who fail to create clarity with their people, then wonder why their people aren’t being accountable, need to turn the mirror around and analyze where they failed in supporting their teams. Using a structure like RACI creates clarity and enables accountability.

First published Dec. 24, 2018, on the thoughtLEADERS blog.


About The Author

Hamish Knox’s picture

Hamish Knox

Hamish Knox plays an important role in Sandler’s worldwide organization, being recognized nationally and internationally as a business development expert specializing in executive sales consulting and sales productivity training. A dynamic, enthusiastic speaker certified in the proprietary selling system developed by David H. Sandler, Hamish informs, entertains, and motivates both leadership and rank-and-file sales teams to achieve at their full potential. Knox is also the author of the book Change The Sandler Way (SandlerTraining, 2016).


It’s an excellent article on

It’s an excellent article on clarity and accountabilit. RACI  is one of the tools to bring clarity and accountability in the projec. Thanks for sharing the prospectiv.