Most leaders would say “absolutely” to any discussion of the importance of accountability in leadership.
However, very often an essential aspect of accountability in leadership is overlooked.
It is easy to think “leaders should have a person that holds them accountable” or that they should “be in an accountability group.” These things have the leader accountable to other leaders.
I don’t dispute the importance of those things, but they are actually missing the most important element of accountability for a leader. And that dimension is the leader being accountable to those they lead.
That is what keeps leadership from becoming a dictatorship. If the leader is not accountable to the people they are leading, then there is no true back-and-forth. Followers’ ideas and hopes are always only suggestions, with no real authority. This, by definition, creates two classes of people.
Instead, the biblical view is that while there is a place for differences in functional authority, these differences are counterbalanced by a true two-way street of accountability between the followers and leaders.
This doesn’t mean that every decision a leader makes needs to be approved by the followers. Rather, we see good examples of what this looks like especially in two areas.
First, democracy. The president is ultimately elected by the people, and has to be re-elected by the people. If he is not governing properly, they therefore have the ultimate power to remove him by not re-electing him. That is how the president is kept accountable to the people.
Second, congregational church government. Congregationalism can certainly be applied in ways that constrict the proper functioning of leadership. But at its essence, it means that the church members are ultimately responsible for what their church becomes, and the pastors and elders are accountable to the members — not simply themselves or a higher governing board.
This creates a cycle of accountability and creates checks and balances. And it enables the followers to take ownership and play a vital part, which is essential for growth.
The necessity of leaders being accountable to those that they lead follows from the fact that all people are in the image of God and equal. Because all people are equal, no person can lord it over another. Which is the same as saying, anyone in a position of leadership is accountable to those that they lead. Nothing else reflects that equality.
We could ask, “where is this taught in Scripture?” Consider Jesus’ statement in Matthew 20:27 where, in teaching about Christian leadership, he says “whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” A slave is accountable to their master to carry out their priorities. Since leaders are to see themselves as slaves of those that they lead, then, that means that leaders are to see themselves as accountable to those whom they are leading. That is part of what it means to see yourself as the “slave” of others — in your leadership, you are accountable to them as to whether you are leading well and carrying out the priorities of the mission.
The actual process of this accountability can take many possible forms. But leaders seeing themselves not as lords over those they lead, but as their servants who are therefore accountable to them is central to the nature of true and humble Christian leadership.