The buck stops where?: examining leader and collective accountability in teams

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Accountability has been commonly referred to in the literature as a person’s expectation about others’ evaluations. However, in this study, I develop an alternative perspective of leader accountability by defining

Accountability has been commonly referred to in the literature as a person’s expectation about others’ evaluations. However, in this study, I develop an alternative perspective of leader accountability by defining it as an individual’s degree of ownership regarding good or poor performance and acceptance of associated rewards or disciplinary actions. Based on attribution theory, leaders can have internal and external ownership regarding good and poor performance. I propose that accountability can be categorized into two correlated but distinct aspects: self-benefitting and other-benefitting. Leader self-benefitting accountability refers to leaders’ attributions towards their own benefits (i.e., internal attribution of good performance and external attribution of poor performance). Leader other-benefitting accountability reflects leaders’ attributions towards others’ interests (i.e., internal attribution of poor performance and external attribution of good performance). Using multiple samples, I develop and validate a leader accountability scale, and then test a theoretical model with a focus on leader accountability and collective accountability (i.e., a group of individuals’ degree of ownership) by collecting data from 57 leaders and 162 followers in three Chinese companies. The findings show that leader humility is positively related to leader other-benefitting accountability. Both leader self-benefitting and other-benefitting accountability are associated with collective self-benefitting and other-benefitting accountability, respectively. Moreover, the relationship between leader self-benefitting and collective self-benefitting accountability is enhanced when the leader has high organization prototypicality. Furthermore, collective self-benefitting accountability decreases leader effectiveness and team effectiveness, while collective other-benefitting accountability increases leader effectiveness.