The most challenging behavior to master with regard to affirming your team and building engagement is getting you and them to embrace accountability. This has several layers of meaning that need to be extracted so that you understand what I mean by accountability. Certainly it means monitoring and holding your people accountable for their KPI’s or performance objectives but it also means being vulnerable as a leader as well as getting your team to be vulnerable around behaviors dealing with team performance such as admitting mistakes, needing help or just saying sorry.
It is not by accident that embracing accountability is not often written about. I won’t sugar coat it, this 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 develop. We all tend to get uncomfortable with idea of calling someone out for a behavior issue or a performance issue.
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 say something to others in passing 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.
The biggest affirmation you can give your team or staff is to hold them accountable. 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 with respect to walking in that mutual vulnerable trust let me use this old adage – “Only your friend will tell you when your fly is open or your slip is showing.” 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 those indicators of a strong and cohesive team.
Let me give you an example. After one of my team meetings with a 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?”
“No? What did I say? I thought I had kept my comments on the concept and not on 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 put a lot of thought into her position and you just sort of shot it down. You were right but it is how it came across that was hurtful.”
I will admit at this point I was waaaaay out of my comfort zone! Bringing emotions into the mix scare 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, headed down to Betty’s office and had a heart to heart. I didn’t defend myself I just apologized for coming across so poorly and hurting her feelings. (Yes, I had indeed hurt her feelings.) 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 team will come to understand that truth and embracing accountability will come easier as they practice that behavior and it is ultimately the highest form of respect.
No it never gets easy, just easier and once you have experienced working on a team that is cohesive and healthy and that practices embracing accountability you will wonder how you ever managed to get things done any other way. And what’s more, it will be rewarding, enriching and fun! So tell me, how accountable is your leadership and your team?
Performance Leadership – Think About It!