Leadership has been a much debated and discussed topic in recent years. Judging by the abundance of reading materials and resources available on the topic, it would appear that few business owners and managers really ‘get it’ and do a good job leading their organizations. The reality is that the collateral damage related to poor leadership usually translates to people getting hurt, careers short-circuited, families and relationships damaged and companies broken – frequently beyond repair. This white paper addresses the root cause of this frustrating issue, why people continue to struggle with it, and how it can be dealt with and conquered once and for all at three distinct levels. Is it an easy task? The obvious answer is NO. The good news is that it CAN be dealt with, and unintended results turned into dreams and goals accomplished.
Learning to become a great leader is not just about inspiring people, conducting powerful meetings, possessing a sixth sense of market awareness or creating and implementing great systems. While these are obvious and necessary pieces, practicing them regularly and well can only produce temporary wins, not great and lasting bottom-line results. What’s often overlooked and undervalued is the implementation of real accountability. Great leaders know how to create an environment of accountability where people are willing to be held responsible for their results and behaviors and hold others accountable for the same – from colleagues to direct reports to supervisors, all the way up and down the chain. Real accountability is an all-inclusive concept; and it’s powerful.
What’s the missing link?
When breakdowns and unintended results are prevalent, true accountability is almost always missing. But there is hope. Becoming intentional about it is the first step – and that’s something you can do right now. Implementing it at three key levels is the second step – and that takes time; especially if your current culture is one dominated by command and control, top-down leadership. Rest assured though, the rewards far exceed the hard work of implementing accountability. The main thing to remember is that accountability only happens with consent and intent. Without it there can only be control and that’s the tipping point. Here’s how to jump-start the process:
Level-one accountability starts with accountability to ourselves. Stephen Covey has brilliantly defined personal integrity as “…fundamentally, the value we place on ourselves. It’s our ability to make and keep commitments to ourselves”. At the highest level of effective leadership lies our willingness to be true to our commitments to ourselves, living lives that match what and who we say we are. Lack of congruence at this level is disastrous and destroys leadership credibility. Personal integrity is the very core of all accountability. Without it a leader is powerless. And without it a leader’s behaviors will mostly be a function of his or her environment, inconsistent and unpredictable.
Leading has everything to do with setting clear standards of purpose and behavior and level-one accountability means full commitment to those standards in our own lives, and the willingness to defend them with all courage and determination. Leaders are standard-bearers; accountable to those around them for what they profess to believe in.
Level-two accountability is found in the ability to delegate regularly and effectively, helping others be and do their best. As with personal integrity, successful delegation is a function of the leader’s values and resulting standards. Think of it as creating parameters or boundaries within which everyone is free to operate at his or her fullest potential, while at same time held in check by clearly defined standards of behavior and performance. Level-two accountability is the missing link for creating productive, trusting company cultures. If being true to one’s self is a difficult task to master, this one may be harder.
Why? – because human nature drives most of us to seek acceptance and the approval of others. Unfortunately acceptance, or being “liked”, is often confused with being trusted. When a leader seeks to be liked by his or her direct reports the likelihood those reports will respect the leader’s authority decreases proportionally. There is an inverse equation at work behind the scenes when being liked displaces being trusted. Trust evokes respect, which fosters accountability. The unbalanced equation reveals a paradox where being liked, much as a friend or colleague, decreases leadership effectiveness, while being trusted inspires people to love us. To delegate effectively is to help others grow to their fullest potential and productivity within clearly set parameters. And good, talented people love it. A great employee will sacrifice for any leader who evokes their complete trust, gives them an environment to grow and succeed, and offers them a chance to achieve their own life goals. By contrast, great employees will flee a company where they are devalued or underappreciated. The great ones want to be held accountable – they see it as their stepping stone to success. Without well-defined boundaries and the accountability to enforce them, company cultures are subject to doubt, politics and confusion; all enemies of growth. The turning point for any leader committed to getting different and better results, and in turn creating healthy company cultures, is his or her willingness to completely abandon the desire to be liked and courageously confront those who don’t measure up.
Organizational health, resulting from level two accountability, is what author Patrick Lencioni calls “the ultimate competitive advantage”, surpassing even intelligence as a compelling factor for success. As employees learn from one another, encourage one another and literally build their own success stories, the companies they work for enjoy unparalleled momentum while other companies, possessing similar or even greater intelligence levels, struggle to break out of the status-quo.
Level-three accountability is recognizing a business’s responsibility to the greater good of its community. A leader devoted to succeeding must not overlook the communities that allow them to prosper – whether they be local, national or global. While hard work and determination help form the nucleus of success, alone they cannot sustain it. Let’s face it, all success takes place within the context of communities as the supporting entities that provide structure, people and resources necessary to a company’s growth and prosperity. Our communities are, by and large, our customers (or at very least a link to our customers). To be recognized as a contributing member of a community is to be recognized as a trusted source for products and/or services. And perception is everything.
Level-three accountability is not so much about community service as it is community awareness. Are we perceived as fair and willing to help? Are there needs going unmet? Can we make a difference? Our communities should not expect us to support them via excessive taxation or litigation, nor should we expect them to favor or reward us just for showing up. Level-three accountability requires leaders to foster attitudes of win-win unselfishness, being willing to take the initiative to reach out with a spirit of generosity and cooperation first, as resources allow. Our very survival may depend on it.
Being accountable and holding others accountable, with clear consequences, is the DNA of leading well. One without the other does not work – it’s an all or none proposition if you want to separate yourself from the pack. Sustained business success depends on a healthy business culture, fostered by clear non-negotiable values and boundaries, held together by a leader’s commitment and willingness to do the hard work necessary to hold to the standards. But it all starts with the leader. What can or will you do differently that will make a difference in your company today? Your people are depending on you to set the pace, define the values, clarify the boundaries and help them to win. Your first step may be to clarify your own values and translate them into your everyday leadership behaviors. Or maybe rally your team around a cause or launch some long awaited training to help and encourage them. If you need help, encouragement or support, Legacy Business Leaders is here for you. Call anytime at 330.470.1300, or visit us on the web at www.Legacybizleaders.com. We would love to have the opportunity to be a part of your success story!
Wishing you the very best in life and business!
Fred Reikowsky, LPBC
Legacy Business Leaders, LLC