In Change, Leaders

“…Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses.” – Mitt Romney

This blog might sound like a repeat (of this, or this, or maybe even this) but it just keeps coming up time and time again. Whether it’s a reflection of our society as a whole or just a coincidence, there is an epidemic of not-taking-responsibility-for-your-situation that is crippling leaders everywhere.

I recently had lunch with a great client who’s allowed us to help them on their journey for a long time. They’ve done a lot of things really well over the years, but one thing they haven’t done well consistently is demand accountability. There are periods where it’s pretty good, and periods where it’s pretty bad. And among the worst offenders have been those that are part of the leadership team.

One of the topics of conversation at that lunch was that there were a few supervisors who had been hesitant to address an issue with one of the employees. The management team member who was relaying the story said something to the effect of, “You can’t tolerate that kind of behavior, you have to go out there and set them straight. We can’t have people acting that way!” Then this leader proceeded to complain about how too many of the supervisors just didn’t seem to want to hold anybody accountable.

My head almost exploded. If you’re the leader, and you don’t hold yourself and others accountable, why should anybody else do it? If I was a supervisor, and I worked for somebody who didn’t always follow through, who didn’t address issues, who didn’t have the sometimes tough conversations that needed to happen, then I wouldn’t do it either. Why should I stick my neck out for the company if management doesn’t?

Boiled down to its most simple, the issue is this: Organizational culture = Leader behavior. If you don’t do it (good or bad), nobody else will. If you do it (good or bad), everybody else will. That’s just a fact. You as a leader cannot fail to let yourself be held accountable and then expect others to be willing to be accountable. You cannot cut corners without expecting others to cut corners. You cannot ignore company policy without expecting others to ignore company policy. It just doesn’t work that way.

As a leader, when you think about the things that need fixing in your organization, start with you. What are you doing that is encouraging/discouraging certain behavior? How have you created this situation? What do you need to do or communicate in order to make the change? Don’t waste time fixing others until first you fix you.

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