In Change, Leaders

“When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.” – David Brin

One of the more frustrating parts of what I do for a living is listening to management groups complain about a lack of accountability in their organizations, and then listening to that same group talk about their complete failure to model accountability themselves.  Leaders will spend hours talking about how employees don’t follow procedures, don’t follow processes, don’t do what they say, and generally are useless.  Then they’ll casually mention something they’ve done recently that makes you think, “Well no wonder your people act that way!”

I think there are two ways we as leaders undermine accountability in our organizations.  The first is by what we do.  If you as a leader pledge to do something, then don’t do it, why would the staff behave differently?  If you as a leader do something that doesn’t align with official company policy, why wouldn’t your staff do the same thing?  Unfortunately, quite often leaders are the worst offenders when it comes to being accountable.  Too many leaders think that being a leader means you get to do what you want.  The reality is that being a leader means everybody’s watching so you have to be careful and intentional about your behavior.

The second way is by what we don’t do.  If you are a leader, and someone behaves in a way that’s not acceptable, and you don’t do anything about it, then whose fault is it?  If you have an employee whose job performance is totally unacceptable, and you don’t let them know or make any attempt to change their behavior, then it’s your fault.  I’ve lost count of how many management meetings I’ve been in where leaders complain about somebody’s behavior, and then say, “They’ve been doing this for years!”, at which point I ask them what exactly they’ve been doing for years to stop it.  Standard response = awkward silence.

So what to do about it?  For starters, in terms of your own behavior, get a peer group, or an outsider (coach) to help.  Knowing you have to answer for your behavior to a group or individual your respect can be a powerful motivator.  Do you want to tell a group of your peers that you respect how you failed?

Second, when you fail, acknowledge it.  Your staff will know when you do things wrong – pretending it didn’t happen just convinces them that you don’t have to answer for your behavior, so why should they?

Third, you can’t just let stuff slide for years with your staff.  If your people are behaving in a way that’s not OK, then you have to do something.  Sit down with them and talk about the problem, and help them develop a plan for fixing it.  Make sure there are consequences and rewards as needed.  But don’t just sit there.  If you don’t address it, you have no right to be angry about it.

Look at your organization – are you happy with your level of accountability?  If you’re not, what’s the problem?  Is it you?



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