I want to go back to a quote included in another of our Accountability blogs: "Our careers, our companies, our personal relationships, our very lives, succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time."
If you'll notice, it says succeeds one conversation at a time. So just as we found that accountability can disappear when we are not having the conversations, we can create the opposite effect when we put skill and courage to work and have the conversations.
These strategies that I am about to share are about empowerment…they will help you invite the conversations that are necessary for accountability to thrive in your organization.
Strategy #1: Be More Self-Aware.
A few moments ago, we said effective leaders "track trends" and they are more aware of their surroundings, of the impact they are having on others. They stay awake during the gradually so they don't find themselves facing an unintended suddenly—having a greater sense of self allows you to better monitor how accountable you are and the behavior you're modeling for others. This awareness allows you to course correct as needed so you don't find yourself, or your team, unintentionally hanging off a cliff.
So what can you do to become more self-aware?
Ask for feedback.
As you think about your current role, do you have curiosity around your own performance? Do you know where you stand with yourself, your leader, your direct reports, your colleagues in relation to your efforts? Sometimes, the key to building accountability on your team requires that we as leaders change our own behavior.
According to Daniel Goleman, internationally-renowned psychologist, "Self-awareness is the key cornerstone to emotional intelligence—the ability to monitor our emotions and thoughts from moment to moment is key to understanding ourselves better and proactively managing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors." Self-aware people tend to act consciously rather than react passively, and they are more inclined to show up in an accountable way—modeling the behavior they want to see from their teams.
Strategy #2: Ditch the shortcuts.
As we determined earlier, accountability is a culture issue. There are no sustainable "short cuts" when trying to build an accountable culture. But that doesn't prevent leaders from trying to find a faster way.
In Fierce Accountability, we talk about the difference between holding someone accountable and holding someone able. When you hold someone able, you choose to recognize the capacity of each person you are connecting with to achieve the goals you agreed upon. There is trust.
But still, it's hard to watch your team day in and day out when they are strongly entrenched in a victim (or finger pointing) mentality. To combat this, leaders will often lean into a few popular strategies to quickly "entice" someone to choose accountability. While each of these strategies tends to be a successful short-term solution, they can create huge problems when we try to sustain them.
The first shortcut to avoid is fear:
Fear happens when a leader simply lays down the hammer, sending the message "you will or else." Or else you will lose your bonus, or else you will be demoted, or fired. The short-term benefit to this strategy of fear is that it actually works! I don't want to lose my job, or my money, so I will do everything it takes, and likely kill myself to get the job done.
The problems with using fear as a strategy are many. Pushback happens behind the leaders back because people are afraid to speak up when they don't think something will work. This erodes trust. Likely, your employees will begin to resent you and that resentment will spread like wildfire. The end result? You lose emotional capital with your employees, which will erode performance and even drive your talent away.
The second short cut to ditch is advice:
I'm not saying never give advice. However, when a leader only ever imparts their own wisdom on an employee to help them "be more accountable," we see less than ideal results follow. We often use advice because it's a simple solution to give someone else the "right" approach or answer. Not to mention, we get to be the expert in this scenario.
It doesn't strengthen the person to whom you are giving advice—they are not working to problem-solve for themselves or make decisions on their own. This creates dependency, and in the end, they just keep coming back for more advice. When leaders take over instead of allowing their teams to problem solve or make decisions on their own, they are removing the chance for true accountability to surface.
In addition, what worked for you may not work for them. I recently heard an interview with Jo Owen, award-winning leadership author, who said, "The rules for survival/success change…what worked for you in the past won't always work in the future. The best leaders know this and remain flexible." In addition, if your advice goes wrong, who will be to blame? Only you.
Strategy #3: Take responsibility for your emotional wake.
What I mean here is, are you taking responsibility for the impact you have on others? This goes hand-in-hand with our self-awareness strategy, and I think it is important enough on its own to give it some individual focus.
Most of us will do anything to avoid being wrong—and often we'll do even more to prove we are right! But what if our need to be right is what is really wrong? While it may be uncomfortable to realize you are wrong or have made a mistake, the bigger question leaders should be asking is, "What is the cost when we are wrong and don't acknowledge it or own up? What price do we and those around us pay?"
There is one very powerful way to take responsibility and own up to the "wake" we create when things go wrong.
While an apology cannot "fix" the problem, it is the first step. You can't fix something you don't acknowledge. Owning up and taking responsibility, while painfully difficult, is an accountable act.It encourages others to do the same.
Summing it Up
True accountability is not a task to check off the to-do list. It is a mindset. It is an ongoing conversation that we are having with ourselves and those around us through our words, our actions, and our follow through. The question is, how are you showing up?
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