I read a quote the other day that was at once funny and thought provoking. It went like this: "Dead people don't know they are dead - its the same for fools." It got me thinking about a principle that has been around for a long time based on a statement by Socrates that the "unexamined life is not worth living." In a nutshell the idea is that we need to be assessing our lives with respect to what we want to accomplish, what we want to leave as a legacy and how we impact the world around us. I believe that the same holds true for leadership.
The good news is that if you are a leader and have wondered about your leadership you are already far and away ahead of the the pack. I want to take the next few blogs to examine Wisdom in Leadership. There are reams of literature around knowledgeable leadership but wisdom is the effective application of that knowledge. What sorts of things make for wise leadership?
I have often joked that leadership would be great if it wasn't for the people! The reality is (in case you didn't get the joke, lol!) is that leadership is almost all about the people. Winston Churchill once said "if you think you are a leader, turn around. If no one is following you your just out taking a walk." Let's take a look at perhaps the first principle of wise leadership - how do you keep the good going?
The majority of people start a job wanting to do good work. It is hard to find anyone who purposes to come to work wanting to do poorly. (Two percent was the last number I heard.) Yet in spite of that reality people figure out what the minimum standard is and they make sure their performance does not fall below that line. Why is that and why do we settle for minimum? In a word, leadership.
There are tons of analogies in business around this idea but for this discussion let's just look at a couple. The first is the 10-80-10 idea. That is that in any given company 10% are outstanding performers, 80% are doing a good job and 10% are under performing. The other analogy that seems to resonate with leaders is that you spend 90% of your time dealing with 10% of your staff - the under performers. In each case the focus is around that 10% under performing group. What we don't stop and think about is that 80-90% who are doing either a good or great job!
So here is the first piece of leadership wisdom. Good leaders know what good work looks like and they will train themselves to look for that with their team and recognize it. It may be easier to find those under performers but it takes work to know what you want from your team, look for it and let them know it when it happens. If you have children you know we can slip into that negative pattern so easily and which of us has not had this statement directed at us by our children at some point - "Is there anything in my life that I have done right?" We find it easy to spot the issues but much harder to look for the good behavior we want.
Bottom line is you can spend 90% of your time dealing with that under performing 10% or spend it recognizing and driving performance in that 90% who are doing a good job and who should be recognized. So while most leaders know that the "squeaky wheel gets the grease" wise leadership knows how to keep the "wheel greased" long before it gets squeaky. That is one way to keep the good going.
One of my favorite scenes from "Saving Private Ryan" was a discussion that Tom Hanks was having with a couple of members from his unit. They were complaining about the mission and wanted his take on things. When challenged on it his response was classic - "I don't complain to you, I complain to my superior, he complains to his and so on. I don't complain to you, your a Ranger you should know that." It was a small part of the movie but it holds a truth that leaders would do well to consider.
We have talked before about the high failure rate of people being moved into leadership. Of those who fail, nine out of ten fail because they lacked those skills required for leadership. Wisdom is one of those skills. I say it is a skill because contrary to common belief it can be learned and mastered. One aspect of wisdom is found in Mr. Hanks explanation to his subordinates - leaders don't complain down, they complain up.
This is often the first trap that new leaders fall into. Having moved from being in the group into leading the group folks are often confronted with dealing with concerns or complaints about certain issues or initiatives as well as their own misgivings about those things. Our habits would have us join in on the venting and this would be a mistake. Whether we perceive or realize it or not a line has been crossed and we are no longer just one of the gang. We are now in leadership and regardless of the level of that leadership those that report to you now look to you for answers, guidance and direction. They take their cue from you. Your response and perspective will be instrumental in the formation of the dynamic of team.
If you join in and express misgivings or vent with the group you are undermining your leadership. You undermine your leadership because you have communicated in a subtle way that you can't do anything to impact change and you have undermined their confidence in the leadership in the company in general. This is not a recipe for effective engagement.
Lets go back to that scene with Tom Hanks. When his group pushes the issue and asks him what his response would be if he were one of them he replies: "Thank you sir, I see this as a very important mission and well worth the use of our fine resources (men) to find this Private Ryan and assuage the grief of his mother." One of the guys looks at the other and says "He good, very good!"
There are many lessons in that scene; he doesn't avoid the elephant in the room (why risk all of them for one man) but rather addresses it directly, and lets them discuss it as well. He provides a great example of how to deal with ambiguity of these types of issues and sets an example of what he expects of them and is actually leading that example. What he is very clear about and doesn't do is join in the griping. Is he part of the group? Absolutely after all he is out there with them. However, he makes a clear distinction between his role and his feelings. He knows his role is to provide reassurance and leadership, his feelings he will share only with those it is appropriate to share with.
Whether you realize it or not, with your group, all eyes are on you. What kind of leadership do you want them to see?
If you are a student of leadership, if you have aspirations of leading one day or perhaps are currently leading either a leadership team or some other team within your company you should weigh carefully the following discussion. As the old saying goes "the clothes say much about the person" so too does the character and makeup of your team. Now before you cry foul because you did not pick your team but had it given to you or some variation thereof, you need to understand the same principles apply. But more about that shortly.
Your team says as much about you as anything else in your life. Some leaders look for team members that will follow direction and not push back. Other leaders will choose teams that get along and see the world the same way they do, we call this the "old boys club." Other leaders choose teams that will make them look good, otherwise known as the "pedestal" - all support, and all in the background. And finally, to be fair some leaders don't have any agenda conscious or otherwise for their team they just fly by the seat of their pants. Be sure about one thing the character of the team speaks volumes about the character of its leader - every time - without fail.
None of us come into leadership brimming with confidence that we have all the answers (ok some might but they typically don't last too long). Someone who intrinsically is unsure of their leadership may choose teams that won't outshine them. Their thinking is what if that person does a way better job and catches the attention of my boss? Its not that they are deliberately trying to undermine the goals for the team they just don't feel comfortable with the idea that they may have competition in the group. Sometimes the team senses this and sometimes not but people looking at the team from the outside will see it.
Some leaders will surround themselves with friends and confidants. Everyone speaks the same language, see the company the same way and they exude a certain unity to be sure. The downside of this type of team is that they are rather homogenous in their outlook and often will lack innovation or imagination. If they are a team among many teams in a company or department they will perform fairly well but may also cover for each others weaknesses and seek to lay fault with another team when things don't go as planned. Being on that team is comfortable but rarely ground breaking.
And some leaders will surround themselves with a cast of supporting characters whose only role is to ensure the light remains firmly on the leader. They all carry out their roles because poor performance will reflect poorly on the leader but when it comes to kudos, those go to the leader first. We see it on many teams be they business or sports, the "I am the superstar" mentality that says "you are on this team to pass me the ball so that I can score the touchdowns." Most of us can bring to mind either being on one of those teams or knowing some poor soul who was. Funny thing is a lot of the time team members think it is only a matter of time until the brass or the board see through the hype - sometimes they do, often they don't. Very often long before anyone has figured it out the "superstar" has moved onto either a new team or company leaving their old team to pick up the pieces.
If you study the really enduring leaders and how they formed their teams you will glean several key traits that are common to many of them. They are first and foremost intentional about the team they are pulling together or developing - they have a vision of what that team needs to look like and how it ought to behave. They will pick for strength every time and are not the least bit timid about hiring or developing talent on the team that far surpasses their own. They will select for diversity. They will want a diversity of perspectives and skills on their team knowing that the sometimes messy interplay of those traits can produce some truly genuine innovation. In many of the findings I have researched these leaders make no bones about the fact that they saw their role as nurturing the potential leaders on the team, many in fact stating that they saw it as part of their role - to work themselves out of a job so to speak.
It may be occurring to you that this seems mighty counter intuitive and you would be right if you looked at leadership on a team simply as a career advancing move. What sets these enduring leaders apart is that the thing that drove them was not at all their own career advancement but the advancement of the company and its mission. They worked tirelessly for that goal alone and all the actions that impact the team and its makeup come from that driving passion.
So let's answer that nagging question that went through your mind at the outset of this discussion, what if I inherited or was given this team? What then? The answer to that is at once both simple and challenging. You get the opportunity to mold that team into something special. It is for you to look at your team and "mine out the nuggets of wisdom and skill" from its members and create a milieu that will allow for diversity and innovation and leave room for excellence to flourish.
Every team has that potential, so whether you create it or inherit it your team will be a reflection of the depth and character of your leadership. The next time you walk into the room with your team, take a hard look around and ask yourself the question; What does this team say about my leadership? If you don't like what you see, what are you prepared to do about it?
The use of metrics and kpi's are important in driving performance. However it's not enough to be able to collect data and manipulate it or to analyze and interpret it. The question is what does it tell you? What story is revealed, how does that inform performance and does the story suggest a direction?
Critical observation or analysis is a key soft skill. If you lead a team or company you know already the importance of not having something come out of left field to blind side you. You depend on your group to keep you informed and to highlight potential trends that will help or hinder achieving the team or company goals. So you know the value of a team member being able to decipher the story out of all the data and information that is a part of daily business. Someone who can create an accurate narrative that instructs and provides direction to your company is someone you want on the team.
Let me give you an example. When we talk about performance improvement most often we are really talking about behaviors and the data around those behaviors that either drive or inhibit performance. In his excellent book "The Power of Habit" Charles Duhigg shares an account of how one man discovered the story in the data that no one else saw. This individual was a Major in the U.S. Army and he was assigned the task of finding ways to decrease the violence that would spring up in Iraqi towns. Up to that point what would happen is that crowds would gather throughout the day in the town square, sometimes around a specific event or issue or sometimes it would just happen. Then by evening when curfew was approaching violence would break out. This happened many times with no solution. The Major had an idea. The next time this started to happen the Major asked the town mayor to have the kabob and food vendors not set up to sell food. The crowds gathered, people were restless and it looked as if things might get out of hand but when the vendors failed to show up people got hungry and went home! In what seemed like hundreds of unrelated outbreaks of violence in this region one man was able to apply his power of critical observation and discover the story in the data and a solution.
Of course this doesn't always have to be life and death. In one case a group of operators had been collecting data on a piece of equipment that pumped sand. They had a set schedule to do maintenance on these machines in order to stay ahead of breakdowns. Since no one knew what the operational limits were each and every machine would get worked at each maintenance break resulting in about two to six hours of lost production at about $600 per minute. This was standard procedure until one individual noticed that the machines started failing after a certain amount of sand had gone through them. Once they starting tracking based on that knowledge they would still take maintenance breaks but now instead of working on all the machines each time they could focus on the ones nearing their limit. Maintenance times went down dramatically and eventually they learned to do maintenance when other areas were shut down, further saving on production costs.
Needless to say that particular operator is now a senior superintendent and his critical observation skills are still serving him well.
Critical observation is a skill that you can practice and refine. Instead of handing your boss a spreadsheet, give them a summary and highlight the key issues for attention, along with suggested possible next steps, And by the way, when your direct reports give you that extra bit of effort and provide you with that analysis be sure to practice that other soft skill and recognize them for that work.
Do you want to get noticed by those you report to at work? Do you want to stand out among your peers and fast track your career goals? Then here is the one thing that you need to take at work in order to do that - initiative.
Initiative is defined in many ways but I like the two following quotes;
"There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened." - Mary Kay Ash, American businesswoman
"Initiative is doing the right thing without being told."
- Victor Hugo, French writer
Initiative is one of those qualities that will set you apart from your peers almost instantly. It does not matter where or what you do, being able to look around you and spot where you can take initiative and help out is invaluable. Taking initiative is considered one of those soft skills that is vital for career success and advancement. And don't let the term "soft skill" deceive you - your hard skills get you hired but your lack of soft skills will get you fired! Soft skills are crucial and of this set of skills taking initiative ranks near the top.
Research with employers in Canada indicates that by far the vast majority (over 80%) prefer to do their hiring and recruitment internally. One of the key skills that they are looking for are employees who take initiative or what is sometimes termed as "self-monitoring" the ability to perform your tasks without a great deal of supervision or no supervision at all.
Another way to describe initiative is simply by asking this question; do you only do what is required of you or do you look for ways to improve your work and align it with your employer's mission? I have used an effective technique in interviews to evaluate whether someone has the quality of taking the initiative; I will have candidates wait in a seating area before an interview and will leave a piece of trash in plain view on the floor. When I come out of the office to invite them in I will check to see if they have picked up that garbage and dropped it in the garbage bin. An oversimplification? Maybe, but I can almost guarantee that the people that take the time to notice and address a simple issue like that will also be the people who will notice other things more key to the company and either take action or bring it to the attention of management. I don't want employees who just put in their time and don't engage with what I hired them to do. Initiative is the kind of trait that is valuable in every organization and at any level.
I recall hearing a story of how Disney hired for initiative and how they use it to enhance the company mission and brand. It was borne out by one of the groups that provide daily room service in one of the many Disney hotels. In this story the son of the story teller had won a large "Woody" doll the previous day at the park. They went out the following morning and left the "Woody" doll on the unmade bed. When they came back this is what they found; the bed had been made and "Woody" had bee propped up on a pillow, with an open box of candy beside him, an open can of soda by one hand, the television remote by the other hand, and the television was on a children's cartoon show. It was magical and their family still talks about it to this day! Remember this was room service and that is the power of someone taking initiative!
Yes, sometimes companies don't make it easy or safe to feel like you can take initiative but that does not mean there are not lots of opportunities all around you. Practice developing an eye for those opportunities and don't be afraid to take a chance. Whether it is something you deem as menial or perhaps a more serious issue, if you see the chance to make a positive contribution to your company, take it.
Probably the number one challenge that all leaders face is the issue of establishing effective communication; both with their team and with their peers. In the modern era of internet and mobile communications we have given into the idea that some how we have more communication than ever. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The sad reality is when you dig into the issues that dog most businesses today the one item that comes up consistently is ineffective communication. "We don't know where we stand" or "We are treated like mushrooms fed ..... and kept in the dark most of the time!" (I will let you fill in the rest of that sentence!) These are statements that reveal the ongoing challenges of communication.
So as new leader (or an experienced leader for that matter) you may be saying to yourself; what else should I do? I post notices, send out emails, do up newsletters for my team, surely that is enough? The short answer to those questions is no it is not. In his excellent work on change management John Kotter points out that leaders typically under-communicate to the power of ten. Patrick Lencioni in his latest work, "The Advantage" states that healthy organizations must focus on creating clarity, over-communicate clarity and reinforce clarity. In short we are not communicating enough.
Here are four principles to keep in mind when evaluating your communication:
1.) People want clear direction - its like the old work joke "Who told you to pile that dirt there?" "But boss, you told me to dig this hole?" This relates to the idea that people want to do good work and particularly new staff. See someone not working? Chances are they are unclear about what to do and they certainly don't want to do the wrong thing. The net result is they can become frozen and unable to move forward until provided with clarity.
2.) People want to know how they are doing. When I ask people how they know they have had a good day at work one of the more common answers is; nobody yelled at me. If you want to increase the level of effective communication you will need to train yourself to look for what folks are doing well and give them that feedback. Look for and communicate on the behaviors you want.
3.) People want to have their ideas listened to. This may seem an obvious communication "tip" but effective communication is a dialogue not a monologue. It is like the story of the battleship commander who upon seeing a light off the port bow radios ahead requesting the other ship make a turn to the right to avoid a collision. When they reply and ask the battleship to move the commander bellows back "We are a battleship and you will move!" The response was classic - "We are a lighthouse stay the course if you wish!" Avoid the pitfall of one way communication, tap into your team and make sure you create a safe place for dialogue.
4.) People closest to the action are best able to assess the risks and opportunities. Bottom line, are are you checking in with and including your front line folks in the communication stream? If not why not?
Really what each of these tips do is provide you with a framework to interact and spend time talking with your team. Those discussions will lead to valuable insights and provide you with a much clearer picture of how your communication is working.
Cultivate Your Situational Awareness - A Hard "Soft" Skill.
There are a wide range of articles and research on the quality or skill that I call "Situational Awareness". Wikipedia has attempted to define this several ways including;
"Situational awareness involves being aware of what is happening in the vicinity to understand how information, events, and one's own actions will impact goals and objectives, both immediately and in the near future,"
"Situational awareness is a state achieved when information that is qualitatively and quantitatively determined by given configuration as suitable for assumed role is made available to stakeholder by engaging them in to appropriate information exchange patterns. (Sorathia, 2008)"
"what you need to know not to be surprised" (Jeannot, Kelly, & Thompson, 2003).
The one I prefer is this; situational awareness is having a sense of your role and place in an organization; aligning your focus with that role, knowing how you are impacting others around you both positively and negatively and knowing how you are performing in that role.
Situational awareness was first coined by the military and emergency intervention services to describe this quality with regard to making "gut" or snap decisions that had life or death consequences. Successful leaders had the capacity to gauge the circumstances, measure the risk and make the right decisions consistently. Of course in these settings a poor decision only needed to happen once to have disastrous consequences. Because the term grew out of this setting researchers and leadership coaches tend to only consider this trait within the confines of high stakes situations or high level leadership. Yet I believe that this skill is a key success indicator across any organization and any role. It is really an indicator too of high emotional and social intelligence and a key "soft" skill.
I have dealt with recruitment and dismissal of staff for over 30 years and I have had many discussions with fellow HR professionals and leaders across many sectors and the one thing that we agree on is that in the majority of cases where dismissal was required the personnel involved had a poor sense of situational awareness. In fact it was often the case that even after having been walked through all the appropriate levels of escalation; verbal feedback, written feedback, mentoring and education, and formal warning many of these people were totally surprised at their dismissal!
On the other hand we have all marveled at those whom we have brought into a company or organization who "get it". They get to know all the players, have a keen sense of the corporate culture, become the "go to" people for projects and for information and typically wind up leading if not through position then certainly by influence. These people have incredible situational awareness and are typically those who will climb the corporate ladder much more quickly than those who lack this skill.
A case in point is Jane. She came to work at a high tech manufacturing company in a support position. She took advantage of that role to get to know all the people in her company and was keen to pay attention to all the office "chatter" regarding process gaps or needs and was soon quietly advocating for change not only because it made her role more efficient but also because it was good for the company. She was quick to pick up on how her colleagues were feeling and always sought to provide the best support possible. In due course she came to the attention of those higher up the management chain and she found herself promoted to positions of greater and greater responsibility. In each case she brought the same approach and situational awareness. And in each case she was a success; a really good example of how the situational awareness skill can bring success within a company. But the story does not end there.
You see as Jane rose in the ranks and got to know the company well, she also got to know the key leadership players and evaluate their impact on the company and its bottom line. Over the course of time as changes took place in the "C-Suite" leadership she noted a distinct change in focus and priority in that group. After much agonizing she recognized that the leadership was moving in a direction that could be disastrous for the organization. She made several attempts to advocate for change all to no avail and so she began looking for a new company and a better fit. Three months after she moved to a new firm her old company filed for bankruptcy protection. Jane's situational awareness was like an internal GPS that directed her both within the company and away from the company to a new one.
So my question for you is this; how is your situational awareness? Do you know how well (or not well) you are doing? Do you know how you are perceived by colleagues and supervisors? You can learn to develop this skill like any other. Practice the "Whats"; What is currently happening? What has happened before that is having an impact on this situation? And what could happen based on the decision I make in response? (Remember, no decision - is - a decision.) What is, What has, What could; use these to expand your perspective and horizons. I will add one more, how will this action align with the company mission?
Leaders are found at all levels of a company. Use your situational awareness to establish yourself as a person of influence and a leader.
There is an abundance of research on the lists of the top ten attributes companies are looking for in new hires be they college grads, or coming from somewhere else. There is a lot of overlap on most of those attributes and many bodies of research try to encapsulate the more esoteric attributes with terms like Emotional Intelligence, strong interpersonal skills, sociable, team work and one of my favorites - creating social capital by creating strategic personal and professional relationships. (Bridgstock) I like that last one because it implies almost superhuman skills at being able to identify future leaders long before they have arrived and forging meaningful relationships with them early in their career to create an advantage for your career later on. Impressive but really?
Not that I don't know what they are trying to say. The core of it is find and build meaningful relationships as part of your career development - you know build your own "old boys" network. The problem is that it is hard to see the up and comers early, they just don't stand out that much and the ones that do stand out either leave a list of used, former friends in their wake or go out in a blaze of glory and disappear. And yet we know it happens, we see it all around us. So the question you have no doubt asked yourself at this point is this; how do I pick a winner in the mix of people I associate with right now to help me advance my career? Short answer? You don't.
The idea is valid enough its just backwards. You don't build a network of meaningful relationships by picking and choosing who might have worth to you or not. In fact that is exactly the wrong approach. You build a network of meaningful relationships by being open and available to anyone in your circle of influence who is open to you. Even more so, make yourself available to those who might not look like they are open or need help but actually do. Be a noticer.
Best selling author Andy Andrews wrote a book entitled "The Noticer" in which he chronicles a series of lives impacted by one individual who had taken note of their situation and offered help and advice. But lets be clear being a noticer is not about getting ahead, it is about helping others get ahead. That is the difference in perspectives and it is this approach that will truly see you come into the quality and type of network of friends and associates that will not only advance your career but will quite frankly be more satisfying in the long run as well. It is something you have to work at at first but it is worth it.
I recall early in my career taking note of one of my work colleagues who seemed to be withdrawing from the group and spending more and more time by herself. I am not sure why but I found that troubling and so one day I took the opportunity to sit down and talk with her about it. At first she was hesitant but when she realized that I was sincerely interested she eventually opened up about the issues she was facing, mostly personal but with the net result of causing her to question her career choice and effectiveness at work, with the team. In fact she had quietly been contemplating quitting. It was a shocking revelation for a number of reasons but chief among them was that she was truly gifted and suited for her work and had the potential for a long meaningful career. I shared that perspective with her and over the course of the next few days she eventually came around to understanding how her personal issues had colored her perspective on her value at work. She committed to working on those issues and was now free of the guilt she was feeling about her contribution on the job. She is still doing that work and is quite successful at it.
I didn't think much about it at the time or afterward either. That is until I was moved into management and given a leadership role in that group. It came as a bit of a surprise to me at the time but my boss told me that reports of my helping that colleague along with a few others had come back to him and that was the factor that tipped the scale in my favor when it came to deciding on who to select for that management opening. Funny thing is for most of those people the things we discussed or that I walked with them through had very little to do with the work we were doing and more to do about them.
Be a noticer, take the time to get to know your team; be there for them and help them succeed and I guarantee you that by being a noticer you will not only enrich the lives of those around you but your life as well.
Next week we are going to take the time to break out the pieces of the last behavior for building a cohesive leadership team which Pat Lencioni calls focusing on results. If you are like me your first thought may have been really? At first glance this does not look all that earth shaking or cutting edge. After all, isn't that what all good companies do? How much time is spent on metrics and performance measures and always, always the bottom line? Pat's answer in a word is yes, however he goes on to point out that many times that company goals get shunted aside by a process that looks like goals but in fact is not.
Every team has its targets and measurables. Every department head has been given their marching orders for where they are expected to be by the end of the budget cycle and everyone goes back to the team they lead and go about setting plans in place to achieve those targets. Good leaders care about their teams, become loyal to them, work hard to ensure they get the resources they need and often will defend their team vigorously. There too is the issue of status, ego and corporate climbing. After all you create an outstanding team and you know you are going to get noticed and possibly position yourself for that next big promotion. Most of us assume that each group or team pursuing its goals all somehow work together for the common good. Not necessarily so.
Which Results and Why
There is an old African saying; "It is always the village goats that starve first." This came from the practice that some villages had where some people owned their own goats and the village would also have goats that were shared in common for the good of the village as a whole. No one owned those goats and for the most part they were left to fend for themselves and as the saying implies when things got tough they suffered first. The point is this; there is a tendency to place personal or department goals or results on a higher level than the company's goals and in fact how many actually know the company goals? We base our approach on the assumption that if the departments are all collectively doing well then the company is too but that is often not the case. Added to this as well is the idea that we base success on the financials or the budget metrics. While this is important those are not the only company goals. Consider the following example.
Company X which we mentioned in a blog last week was one of those companies that had a dedicated and capable group of leaders who all took managing their teams seriously and were very capable. This was also the group that had to compete with each other for company resources and because that was the norm budget became the king of every department's metrics. It did not start out that way as this was a technology company and it relied on R&D and innovation to compete. Yet as more and more emphasis was placed upon making every dollar stretch, without realizing it each department began looking to demonstrate competence by hitting what were very tight budget targets. Soon many operational and departmental policies were based on hitting the budgets each year. And guess what? They did. Each and every year the departments figured out ways to reach their budget targets. A lot of discussion went into those budget meetings but there were some unsettling things brewing. Troubling results came in regarding slippage along the lines of innovation and competitiveness. In fact it came to light that indeed each department actually had downward trends in customer satisfaction, innovation and employee satisfaction. Not only that but those trends were now well established over a multi-year period. How could this have happened? Budget targets, which were paramount, had been met so where was the disconnect?
We will explore the final behavior of a cohesive leadership team which is focus on results. Which results and why they are important and different from the kind of metrics you might expect. And we will explore how Lencioni identifies how to break out of that model, what model to implement and how to change the focus of the leadership team so that they are committed to the right results for the greater good of the company.
As we continue to explore the concepts developed by Patrick Lencioni around developing healthy organizations we come to the issues of commitment and accountability. You have now built your team to the point where they have learned to operate together with a vulnerable trust and they have figured out how to manage conflict in a productive way so that the company mission is being advanced. The last two behaviors that are required for building a cohesive and healthy leadership team are achieving commitment and embracing accountability.
Once your team have mastered managing conflict, achieving commitment becomes a relatively simple step. It may look messy to the uninitiated but it is effective and easy if you have made the effort to guide those first two behaviors (trust and conflict). The thing about achieving commitment is that by far the best way to ensure this with your team is to create a structure for meaningful input into the decisions that impact the them. It may be that they won't actually be able to change a decision but the necessity of giving them an opportunity to provide input is important. Most people realize that they don't get their way on all things. They will however move forward with you if they feel that they had a genuine opportunity to provide input. I say genuine because if you are just going through the motions, giving the appearance of feedback, you will actually have a detrimental effect on that initiative. It has to be genuine, there should be the possibility that the feedback will be heard and yes, when pertinent, incorporated.
This is where it can look messy for you as a leader but remember even if this is your project or initiative other people have a stake in it as well. It will be hard but you must learn to share and realize too that they may actually have insights that will further enhance what you want to accomplish.
It is not by accident that embracing accountability comes last in the order of what is required for building a cohesive and healthy leadership team. I won't sugar coat it, it is the hardest behavior to master. In fact statistically this is the biggest challenge that leaders face across all the other behaviors that they need to master. This takes us back to the initial challenge that companies face which is there is no lack of process, no lack of expertise on the "hows" of running a business. We can hold people accountable for performance measures and metrics because in our minds those things are quantifiable and therefore easier to deal with. But true organizational health requires embracing accountability that deals with behaviors on the team and the teams your team may run. Did your heart skip a beat? It should have, this is where things can get personal particularly if you have not taken the time to build the other behaviors that make up a strong leadership team. Jumping to holding someone accountable for undesired or potentially destructive behavior before building trust and learning how to manage conflict can be problematic.
In reality though your biggest challenge will not be jumping ahead of the process to hold someone accountable for a negative behavior but rather it will be in holding them accountable at all. If you are like most of us (and I mean most of us) you are not going to want to hold that team member accountable for a negative or non-productive behavior. Rather you will probably make note of it during your meetings or in passing and perhaps mention it to others on the team or in your department. Regardless of how you try to spin it this is indicative of a lack of respect as there is nothing respectful about withholding information from a peer that could help them improve their performance. If you think about it from a personal perspective wouldn't you want to be told that something you were doing or not doing was not only noted by your peers but was impacting their ability to do their jobs as well? This will date me a little but in the spirit of walking in that mutual vulnerable trust let me use this old adage - "Only your friend will tell you when your fly is open." As difficult as it may seem, the idea of holding each other accountable for behavior that impacts the team has to be done and is one of the hallmarks of a strong and cohesive leadership group.
Let me give you an example. As we discussed in an earlier post getting to know each other and creating that vulnerable trust in the leadership group is important for embracing accountability. After one of my team meetings with a leadership group that reported to me I was approached by one of the team members and the conversation went something like this;
"Do you know that some of the comments you made regarding that last initiative really hurt Betty's feelings?"
"Really? What did I say? I thought I had kept my comments on the concept and not aimed at her?"
"Well, for the most part you did but you were pretty forceful and passionate and I think she took it the wrong way."
"That is true, I do feel pretty strongly about that issue but I really was just arguing the facts, I did not think I was attacking her?"
"Try to remember she was asking for specifics on some of the details. She put a lot of thought into her questions and was really just looking for clarity and you just sort of shot them down. I know you thought you were engaged in a vigorous discussion around those ideas but it is how it came across that was hurtful."
I will admit at this point I was waaaaay out of my comfort zone and bringing emotions into the mix scared me to death. But, I trusted this team member and I knew she was not trying to put me on the spot but was actually watching my back. So I took her advice and headed to Betty's office. I didn't defend myself I just apologized for coming across so poorly and hurting her feelings. (Yes, I had indeed hurt her feelings.) And then we spent the next 30 minutes going over her questions and coming to a consensus on them. Done. That's it! There was no need for any strange dynamics at the next meeting or second guessing any agenda behind the go forward discussions around that issue.
Was it hard for that team member to call me on it? You bet. Was it hard to go and humble myself and be vulnerable with Betty? Absolutely! But what it saved me down the road in hurt relationships, lack of engagement and loss of productivity and unity on the team cannot be calculated. A healthy leadership team will come to understand that truth and embracing accountability will come easier as they practice that behavior.
No it never gets easy, just easier and once you have experienced working on a team that is cohesive and healthy and practices the behaviors of vulnerable trust, managed conflict, achieving commitment and embracing accountability you will wonder how you ever managed to get things done any other way. And whats more, it will be rewarding, enriching and fun! So tell me, how healthy is your team?