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Accountability, it’s kind of an uncomfortable word, isn’t it? Personally, it has never been a word that stirs up warm and fuzzy feelings when I hear it. My thoughts about accountability have run along the same lines as my thoughts about root canals… avoid if possible, can cause pain, but in the end…probably necessary and best for my health.
In my early years as a leader, I tended to shy away, shall we say from those uncomfortable accountability conversations. Why? Because accountability conversations often imply that there is a problem, a failure, or a shortcoming. Who wants to talk about that? When was the last time you called someone into your office to have an accountability conversation just to say how great they are? Yeah, me neither.
And yet I am learning in my own personal pursuit of being a leader who desires to lead with integrity, and coaching others to do the same, that accountability is not something to avoid or fear, but to embrace and dare I say, enjoy? Ok, I may be pushing it a bit there…
It may be a hard sell to convince anyone that difficult conversations are ever enjoyable but perhaps by the end of this 2-part series, I can at least get you to agree that although uncomfortable, a leader’s willingness to engage in accountability conversations are in the end not only necessary but will produce a healthier, stronger team, and make you a leader others want to follow!
First, let’s talk about what happens when a leader neglects to have accountability conversations on a team. For me, sometimes the most helpful way to discover the importance of living out a leadership value is when you look at the consequences of not doing it. Duh.
I have learned so much about accountability as a critical leadership value from the book High Impact Teams. In the book, the author Lance Witt, points out that there are 3 pitfalls that a leader can fall into when we avoid these critical accountability conversations.
The first is that we don’t get the desired results. Most of us have this quirk, ok it’s not a quirk it’s a major flaw, it’s called needing to be liked. Witt calls it “terminal niceness.” I like that. Not a horrible diagnosis, could be worse. This quality that many of us have, although lovely sounding, often gets in the way of us addressing what we know to be true and real! If you are in a leadership role, it will always and forever be your responsibility to speak truth into your team because results matter. If you are a leader who has been entrusted with a team, a project, a firm, anything that has resources and people, you are responsible for results. That means that there will be times when leaders will need to have the courage to speak up when things aren’t going well. Telling an employee or a team that everything is fine when it’s not is simply not going to get you the results you desire. We need to be honest with our employees and be willing to speak truth into a situation, especially in issues of non-performance. Remember the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result! Leaders need to courageously step in at times and say, “hey, we need to have talk and make some changes.” Yes, that’s harder than cheerleading, believe me, I get it, but if you desire a healthy team and care about results, having accountability conversations is a responsibility that a leader should never abdicate.
The second pitfall that Witt points out is that when accountability goes missing it perpetuates dysfunction. He writes that “accountability is not just about performance and results, it’s also an emotional health and team health issue.” This is so true! Lack of accountability can quickly lead to a toxic culture on a team. When leaders are unwilling to have hard conversations, we end up tolerating bad behavior and that leads to a dysfunctional team. In short, like any disease, dysfunction spreads. The bad behavior we tolerate in one employee will quickly have a ripple effect and we will find ourselves trying to manage not just the bad behavior of one employee but a whole team of knuckleheads. Leaders with integrity don’t wish things away or turn a blind eye when they see bad behavior, they put on their big boots, wade in the deep end and address it.
The third pitfall is the one that convicts me the most as a leader and that is that when we fail to hold people accountable it limits their growth and development. When I stop to think that my neglect in being willing to have an uncomfortable conversation could actually impede on someone’s growth and development, I start to sweat a little. Yikes. Here’s the thing; if leaders truly cared about those on our teams we will always do what is best for them even when its uncomfortable for us. Patrick Lencioni has something to say about this; he says, “Many leaders who struggle with this will try to convince themselves that their reluctance is a product of their kindness; (there it is again) they just don’t want to make their employees or team members feel bad. But an honest reassessment of their motivation will allow them to admit that they are the ones who don’t want to feel bad and that failing to hold someone accountable is ultimately an act of selfishness.” Wow. Convicted. Lencioni is right. When we honestly look at why we are unwilling to hold people accountable isn’t it because we are preserving ourselves? We don’t want to be the “bad guy”. We want people to like us and we don’t want to be uncomfortable or make anyone feel uncomfortable. But here is the honest truth that leaders need to face up to; we are not helping people become the very best they can be personally and professionally when we don’t hold them accountable. Period. One final quote from Lencioni on this note, he says, “To hold someone accountable is to care about them enough to risk having them blame you for pointing out their deficiencies.”
No one said leadership was easy. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. It takes a whole lot of humility, courage, and discipline for those who desire to do it well. It is widely known that with authority comes great responsibility. Stay tuned for part 2 as we continue to explore the leadership value of accountability and offer some practical skills in managing the difficult accountability conversations with those on your team.
Your fellow leader on the journey,
Lance Witt, High Impact Teams Where Healthy Meets High Performance
Baker Books, Baker Publishing Group Grand Rapids Michigan Copyright 2018, p. 97-98
Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage; Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in the Business (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012), 59
I recently devoured the book Think Again by Adam Grant. (Shoutout to The Legacy Center Book club for this great selection!) Think Again holds so many great takeaways that I nearly exhausted a new highlighter trying to remember all the nuggets of knowledge. (Yes, I am one of those people who read actual, hardcover books.) I’ll warn you though, there were parts of this book that I didn’t like. Maybe because it stretched me in ways I hadn’t been challenged before, or because it pushed me to rethink areas that frankly, I didn’t want to. Whatever the case, the good outweighed the uncomfortable and I feel compelled to share one of the topics that resonated with me on a deep level. The idea of Confident Humility.
Let’s break it down. What is confidence? At its root – it’s defined as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities”. So basically, how much you believe in your ability to achieve a goal. The second half of this concept focuses on humility… specifically, Intellectual Humility – or “Knowing what we don’t know”. When you combine these two seemingly contradictory concepts, you end with a leadership trait that propels leaders drastically ahead of their peers in both performance (results) and appreciation from their teams. Adam Grant defined Confident Humility as–
Having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even be addressing the right problem. That gives us enough doubt to reexamine our old knowledge and enough confidence to pursue new insights.
Can you imagine having a leader like this? Have you ever worked for a leader like this? Someone who is comfortable, even in their leadership role, admitting that they don’t know everything. Someone who radiates confidence in their abilities to lead or execute, all while admitting that they don’t have all the answers, so they intentionally create space for others to speak up and provide solutions. Someone with the self-awareness to operate with the growth mindset of a lifelong learner, and also be an efficient and effective decision-maker. Who wouldn’t want to ‘fall in line’ under an individual like that? (Check out the attached image created by TechTello for more descriptors of what a leader who demonstrates confident humility looks like.)
In rigorous studies of leadership effectiveness across the United States and China, the most productive and innovative teams …(have leaders who) score high in both confidence and humility. Although they have faith in their strengths, they’re also keenly aware of their weaknesses. (Think Again)
Employees want to follow someone who exhibits confidence, and they want to emulate someone who displays humility. Confidence begats followers -humility creates disciples. You need both to become a successful leader. With that line of thought, Confident Humility is a trait that leaders should shift their attention to. It allows room for them to shine and showcase their strengths, as well as display vulnerability (it’s not a dirty word!) in letting others, even those with opposing views, share their insights. The result – an exponentially better outcome on any initiative that is approached with this mindset. When you can rely on team members to step up and stand out in their strengths and defer to others without shame or insult when it’s a weaker area or an unknown / unexperienced concept, the magic of true teamwork is unleashed.
And do you know the most encouraging part about this concept? Confident humility can be TAUGHT! As a leader, you can work to strengthen this muscle personally and as you model the concept, build an inclusive team who will act with confidence but not arrogance!
I love how Vinita Bansal summed it up: “Confident humility is the confidence in a leader’s ability to make the right decision while acknowledging that they need others to do it right. It’s knowing what they don’t know and having trust in what they do. It’s having faith in their strengths, while also being aware of their weaknesses.”
I hope you are as inspired and curious about Confident Humility and how to do well, as I was when I first heard the term. If you’d like to learn more – or want to see how The LEGACY Center can bring this concept to your leadership team – don’t hesitate to reach out!
You’ve got a great business model and a hot market, but you’re not achieving what you know you could. You suspect it could be a culture issue. What can you do?
Strengthening your culture is doable, but be warned: there are critical success factors that will make or break your cultural transformation efforts. Here’s what we’ve learned over the years of working with a lot of unique leadership teams. These principles apply, no matter what market you’re in or who is on your team. Let’s dive in.
- OWN IT. It’s got to come from the top. If the top dog isn’t living and breathing the desire to develop the culture, it will be a long hard slog with limited impact. In fact, cultural efforts led by HR without strong leadership at the top can do more harm than good. Even though you will need to engage everyone in the organization in your cultural transformation effort, this is not a grassroots effort.
Behaviors are going to need to shift – and that means authentic self-reflection and personal work for everyone. There is nothing more powerful than a CEO who leads by example and examines how they could be more aligned with the values needed to drive the organization forward. When you create an environment promoting self-improvement instead of perfection, it opens the door for everyone to increase their self-awareness and grow.
Tough decisions will need to be made too. Sometimes structures and processes unintentionally foster dysfunction in the organization, and those in positions of power need to help untangle the elements needed to help drive change.
- CLARITY IS KING. Values need to be crystal clear. While we love the simplicity of one word that captures a whole concept, the interpretation of those words can differ greatly. Organizations that align their staff to company values have done the hard work of discerning and communicating the definitions and behaviors they are committing to and looking for. Without this granular element, it’s near impossible to coach people into the culture you’re looking for. It’s all too vague and heady.
- INTENTIONALITY WINS. It’s got to be disciplined. Employees can sniff out the “flavor of the month” a mile away. Without a coherent and communicated pathway, you will have a hard time getting people to buy in and engage. Regular cultural measurement, tight action items and ongoing updates are elements that can help you gain traction and maintain it. Remember, nothing drifts toward greatness – especially your organization’s culture. You wouldn’t consider neglecting process improvement efforts, why would you neglect intentional management of your culture?
- REWARD AND RECOGNIZE. Those are the things that get repeated. Good leadership not only models desired behaviors but also points out when others are walking the talk. Pay attention to how you are recognizing great examples of values-driven behavior – both publicly and privately. It’s amazing how powerful positive affirmation can be to move the needle on desired behaviors – many of us just don’t slow down enough to do it consistently and authentically.
So how are you doing with these 4 success factors?
- Do you and your leaders lead by example and walk the talk?
- Are your values and behaviors clear and known?
- Are you wildly intentional?
- Do you recognize great examples of values-driven behavior and reward it?
I can guarantee that if you begin doing these four things, your culture will begin to shift and you will see the impact on your performance, your retention, and the energy and passion of your people. It’s worth the effort.
Want to ensure your team has what it takes to have a winning culture? Contact The LEGACY Center today!
We make decisions. We solve problems. I once heard the author and speaker, Dr. Henry Cloud, say that success in our work means, “we get more complex problems to solve and more impactful decisions to make!” That is a success! We get more! Added to that, as we build our businesses, grow our organizations, and push toward our missions, we are writing a story. The reality is, every decision we make becomes a permanent part of the story of our life, and our organization’s life. No pressure.
Permanent is a long time. The implications of saying yes to that hire, no to that deal; we have no way of knowing in the moment what the long-term impact will be. Considering this, I have been taking a harder look at how I make decisions, and “Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets” by Andy Stanley has helped me tap the breaks, in order to ask myself some hard questions.
One question that has allowed me to think more wisely, and more broadly, about how to handle difficult situations has been this: What do I want my story to be? What do I want the story of my firm to be? When complex, emotional and pressured-packed decisions arise, this question has helped bring clarity. It has broken the movement toward what is feeling best in the moment, and instead, has allowed for a more comprehensive long-term view of the solution. Even if the right decision requires the ability to weather some short-term pain in order to keep a hold on to the story we want to be able to tell. Ultimately, when we ask ourselves this question, we are really asking ourselves to lead with our values. Now, that’s authentic values-driven leadership.
So how about you? What’s the story you want to tell? I know that continuing to ask this question – of myself and my team – will help us avoid some bad decisions today that could have a big impact deeply into our future.
Write a great story – one you are proud to share.
The Legacy Center President
Organizations keep turning up in the news with disastrous circumstances that frequently point back to flaws in their culture: everything from serious integrity infractions, loss of important talent, and of course the current attention on egregious sexual misconduct and harassment. No one starts a business with the intent of landing in one of these or other quagmires, quite the opposite. Most business leaders expect to enjoy the benefits of a healthy organizational culture – one that attracts A players and oozes jazzed employees and an energized atmosphere. This is the stuff of iconic businesses like Southwest Airlines and Zappos and a growing myriad of lesser-known companies who have figured out that intentional management of their culture has a big payoff. Not only the right thing to do, but it’s also very much the smart thing to do. It’s so smart, they make sure to not leave it to evolve on its own. Culture is a beast that grows through who and what feeds it, and wise organizations are carefully managing the care and maintenance of this critical element of their performance.
So… what’s feeding your culture?
Most of us think of organizational culture as this nebulous and hard-to-pin-down reality that we hope is as healthy as we’d like it to be. From time to time disturbing behaviors and situations crop up, and we deal with them. Kinda like whack-a-mole –perhaps in place of a careful examination of the root cause. Over our years of working with executive teams to help them develop healthy, aligned, values-driven cultures we’ve observed a few things about what prevents leaders from grabbing the bull by the horns and managing their culture before it manages them. Here are 3 consistent stumbling blocks:
1. “I feel really good about our culture” – in short, executives can nurture a false sense of security about what is really happening and experienced by the rank and file. Instead of verifying their assumptions, they have chosen to rest in their own estimate of reality. Unfortunately, the higher one is the organization the less honest information we get, a concept popularized by Sydney Yoshida.
2. “I have no idea how to start” – Let’s face it, we all procrastinate or avoid those things we don’t how to manage. It’s human nature. A lot of leaders are not aware that there is a measurable, process-driven approach to managing culture in a way that clearly identifies the percentage of dysfunction that is impeding the highest performance and the limiting values that are driving that dysfunction. Limiting values look like this: silo mentality, blame, power, greed, confusion, and many others. Once reality is measured and provides clear data, leadership teams can create the game plan. We call this the MEASURE – LEARN – PLAN – EXECUTE process. In addition to learning about the all-important levels of entropy (defined as the amount of energy expended on non-productive activities), organizations can also get clear-eyed on their alignment to their core values. Are they just “words on the wall” or are they a living breathing part of the regular experience of their employees?
3. “I’m not sure I really want to know” – Leadership guru Henry Cloud subtitles his book on Integrity with this: “The Courage to Face the Demands of Reality” for good reason. It takes a boatload of courage to seek out what is truly happening in our organizations. Once we know, the responsibility to do something about it falls on the shoulders of the CEO and their executive teams. Sometimes, dealing with the causes of toxic cultural impact may require tough and painful decisions that are easier to avoid if we aren’t actively looking for the root cause. The strength and wisdom required to unflinchingly seek out the truth is no joke, but the relief that occurs once the situation is productively managed is immense. Recently, a C-Level executive confessed that he was stunned by the positive impact on his team once he pulled the plug on a toxic but performing team member. The team reflected on how much more positive energy was released in the aftermath, even though workloads temporarily increased.
For these and other reasons, the majority of organizations are NOT actively developing a key contributor to their performance – their culture. Take a look at these outcomes of some recent studies:
- 86 percent of leaders believe culture is an important or very important issue. 1
- 91 percent of executives believe that culture is important to their firms. 2
- 84 percent of leaders believe that culture is critical to their organization’s success. 3
- 92 percent of board members say that investing in culture has improved financial performance. 4
Despite these beliefs, true action is slow to happen. Consider these further statistics:
- 28 percent of CEO’s report that they understand their organization’s culture. 1
- 5 percent said their own corporate culture was exactly where it needed to be. 2
- 51 percent believe their culture needs a major overhaul. 3
- 12 percent believe their organizations are excellent at effectively driving the desired culture. 1
The opportunity that exists for organizations to truly leverage their unique differentiator – their high-performing, healthy culture – in order to pull away from their competitors in the marketplace is huge. The example that is well-known is Southwest Airlines, whose values include: A Warrior Spirit, A Servant’s Heart, and a Fun-Luving Attitude. Southwest hires for these values, recognizes and rewards them in action, and intentionally develops them throughout the organization. The results speak for themselves: after 47 years of service, Southwest is the largest domestic carrier with 24% of market share, is the only domestic airline with 45 consecutive years of profitability, and has been rated #1 by the DOT Consumer Satisfaction Rating for 22 of the last 26 years. Pretty impressive.
We manage what we measure – what’s stopping you?
- 1: Deloitte Human Cap Trends 2016. : http://dupress.com/periodical/trends/human-capital-trends/
- 2: Duke/Columbia 2015 Research http://www.inc.com/will-yakowicz/company-culture-can-make-break-company-study.html
- 3: PWC 2013 Culture and Change Management Survey: http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/culture-and-change
- 4: EY 2016 FTSE 350 Board of Directors Survey: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-culture-and-boards-at-a-glance/$FILE/ey-culture-and-boards-at-a-glance.pdf
The Legacy Center President