I have written on this particular leadership talent extensively as in my mind it is the cornerstone of what truly great leadership is. It is also one of those things that is under attack of late and certainly something that is misunderstood. It is under attack through a culture of "correctness" that stipulates that leaders and team member dare not say anything to offend. It is misunderstood in that people have failed to recognize that being honest about someones performance or issues that impact performance is the most caring and productive thing a leader can do.
Accountability is NOT Offensive
Think of it this way; in the name of not "offending" someone how many people have been let go and never had a clue there were issues? How many people struggle for form meaningful work relationships because no-one will address the behaviour that is impacting their fit with the team? We don't do anyone favours by sheltering them from these things and good leaders know that. I had one leader explain it to me this way; "If my neighbours house was on fire I would be knocking on his door to make sure he knew and got out safely. It's the same thing on my team, if I see someone who is struggling in terms of performance or maybe is unaware they are having issues with performance shouldn't I be doing the same thing? Shouldn't I be knocking on the door until they know and get out safely? My number one job is to make sure each member of my team is accountable for what they do or don't do and are immediately held to account for those things."
Accountability Does NOT Happen in Isolation
Now would be a good time to pan out on this issue and look at how the other talents contribute to making accountability work. If a leader has created a compelling vision and mission for their team and they have developed a set of outcomes everyone is driving to and are tracking those outcomes as tools for making decisions then isn't holding the team and themselves accountable just a natural extension of this process? If on the other hand none of those things are in place holding someone accountable becomes much more problematic.
Only a Friend Will Tell You When Your Fly is Down
There are many instances of this kind of accountability that stand out for me so let me share one. One particular crew had been assigned to conduct a new and very risky procedure for a client. Even though the client had requested it because of the outstanding performance of the crew, failure was not an option. The process got off to a rough start and while there were several issues they had no control over there was one piece of equipment being manned by an operator that was an issue. After the second mistake was made, the team lead went outside, had a chat with that operator and sent them back to the shop and put someone else in their place. This type of thing was unheard of and even I was a bit surprised but no one said anything and the rest of the job went off without a hitch and what was accomplished was a first of its kind in Canada.
After it was all completed I took a moment with that team lead to get their thoughts on what had happened with that operator earlier in the day and his response was amazing! As he put it he knew what kind of performance this operator was capable of and he was way off that level that day. In his mind to keep going with this happening put the whole project at risk and so he explained to the operator that he felt he was having an off day and so for his benefit (so he would not get into further difficulties) and for the good of the team he was replacing him. It was a tough call holding that operator to that level of accountability but it was the right call. The operator knew it, the team knew it and the team lead knew it. Knowing where that team lead had been only months earlier it was an amazing example of growth into the role!
Accountability is Caring Enough to DO Something
Accountability is something you hold yourself and your team to because you care about them and you care about them achieving the goals set before them. It requires a tremendous amount of situational awareness on the part of leadership which can be developed through the other talents already mentioned and it is worth it. Remember this; if you let someone go and they never knew what the issues were - thats on you! How is accountability happening on your team? Performance Leadership - Think About It!