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Leadership: Driving Accountability

Ben Legg
Former COO of Google, Europe

Learning outcomes

  • How leaders can drive accountability from direct-reports
  • Communication tasks and sub-tasks to direct reports

Executive Bio

Ben Legg

Former COO of Google, Europe

Ben is an engineer by training and spent over 10 years in the Royal Engineers in the British Army career before moving to McKinsey. In 2002, he moved to Coca-Cola where he ran teams across Eastern Europe before turning around the Indian business leading 12,000 salespeople. Ben then moved to Google where was COO of UK and Ireland for 2 years before being promoted to COO Europe where he was responsible for writing the monetisation blueprint of Google’s various properties. This involved defining the role of ad units, properties, interactions with agencies and partners, and devising how auctions should work. Ben then ran a Yellow Pages turnaround before running an ad-tech business for 6 years which ran $200m of ad spend through the major technology platforms. Ben is the author of Marketing for CEO’s and is on the Board of The Oxford Foundry where he is a mentor and investor to multiple startups. Read more

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Interview Transcript

How do you look at driving accountability within your team?

The first thing to say is that leaders are accountable, so I make my team succeed, but if the team fails — on any individual goal, even — I failed. You don’t pass the buck and say, “Well, if we succeed, it’s all on me, and if we fail, I’m going to blame it on someone.” Success or failure sits with you. The best leaders will say, “If we succeed, it’s down the team. If we fail, it’s on me.” You are the leader; you are accountable. If you see someone in your team who is failing, your job is to help them succeed, and if you don’t manage to do that, you’ve failed.

There are other important things too. Most big tasks have lots of sub-tasks, so make sure it’s clear who’s responsible for what for the most important stuff, you need to very clearly define who’s responsible, what needs to happen, what good looks like, a particular metric or task that’s completed. Possibly link bonuses to it. Not everything has to be linked to money, but if you’re in a company that has a bonus structure, why not link bonuses to getting the most important stuff done?

Coming back to the things people are accountable for in the one-to-ones, the team meetings, maybe have live dashboards on how you’re progressing versus the goals. Getting stuff done and holding yourself and your team accountable is critical. Loose conversations in which people aren’t quite clear on what they’re supposed to do or how they’re doing against goals are not helpful to anyone. Clarity on what you’re trying to achieve, where you are, and what you’re going to do next is important — even though there will be some mud along the way. That’s life.

All organisations should be trying to change the world. You make mistakes and hit some confusion, but you’re always trying to create clarity out of that.

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