Tag Archive for leadership

6 Things the Best Leaders Know About Accountability

Mad fight of business people


If there are two words in the leadership and management arena that are more misunderstood and abused than accountability and coaching, I’d be interested in hearing them.

Coaching and accountability. Accountability and coaching. Like peas and carrots. Or maybe more like liver and onions. Heck, it may conjure sensations more akin to a colonoscopy, depending just how bad your experiences have been.

Coaching can go both ways, right? Sometimes it has a positive vibe to it, while other times, like when it’s framed as a “coaching session,” it can have a slightly more ominous tone. Like a punch to the soul perhaps.

Accountability, no matter how much we try to reframe it into something positive (which rightly understood, it is), still has a decidedly negative connotation for most of us.

The reason it’s like that is because most of us have experienced things that led us to attach negative emotions to those words. That’s kind of how our minds work. If we have a negative attitude about something, it’s because we have negative beliefs about that thing. And if we have negative beliefs about that thing, it’s usually because we’ve had experiences that have led to those beliefs. Make sense?

So our attitudes and beliefs about coaching and accountability have been shaped by experiences we’ve had with coaching and accountability. Many, though probably not all, of those experiences have likely been negative.

But here’s the thing — it doesn’t have to be this way. It really doesn’t.

Coaching and accountability are two very powerful tools that can and should have a decidedly positive impact on teams and organizations, but they can only do that if they’re conceptualized and practiced appropriately.

Here’s what the best leaders know about coaching and accountability:

1. Accountability is a shared thing between two or more people.

It’s not a one-way thing. The dynamic accompanying accountability changes dramatically if accountability goes both ways. The problem, of course, is that usually that’s not how it’s orchestrated. Typically, the one with the most positional power calls the “subordinate” into his/her larger, more luxurious office, where he/she then — and this is the phrase — “holds the ‘subordinate’ accountable.” That conversation is generally pretty one-sided, save for perhaps a couple patronizing questions.

That, my friends, is not accountability. That’s an assertion of power. A scolding. A corrective conversation. But it’s not what accountability should look like.

Accountability should be a shared thing. It’s two or more people holding each other accountable to agreed upon and committed to group goals and expectations. As it relates to a team, it’s the entire team, including the leader, holding each other accountable.

2. Coaching and accountability aren’t meant to be instruments of power.

Related to the above, coaching and accountability shouldn’t be thought of and/or used as instruments of power and control. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I understand the necessity of formal, corrective, disciplinary action from an HR perspective; but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Too often, coaching and accountability are used as tools to assert dominance and/or control over “subordinates.” (Oh, how I hate that word.) Think about it. We (organizations) make people — human beings — walk into their bosses’ offices, heads down in shame, sit down, listen to their bosses’ monologues about all the ways they’ve messed up, nod in feigned agreement with their bosses, and then get up and go back to work. Oh, and “go team” and all that jazz. Hashtag sarcasm.

3. Coaching and accountability conversations should be conceptualized as opportunities to serve a teammate.

What if we wiped our mental whiteboards clean and started from the perspective that coaching and accountability were primarily about serving our teammates? What if that was the primary end? I bet those conversations would look and feel a whole lot different. And I bet they’d produce better and more sustainable results too. (In fact, I know from experience they do.)

4. Coaching and accountability conversations should be truly collaborative.

As I alluded to above, coaching and accountability ought to be collaborative. A coaching conversation, for example, ought not be a monologue given by the one with the most positional power. Rather, the conversation should feel more like…well…a conversation. If we truly view accountability as a shared thing, the conversation should feel shared too. It then becomes more of a dialogue between two teammates about what went wrong, what each of them thinks, what each of them could have done differently, and what each of them commits to do going forward. You see, that’s shared accountability. That’s mutual ownership. It’s collaborative and team-oriented.

5. Coaching and accountability should be primarily a team thing, not something owned exclusively by the manager.

I’ve said it elsewhere — and I go into it in much greater depth in one of the talks I give — but I don’t even see accountability on a team as being primarily or exclusively a manager’s responsibility. Now, it’s the leader’s responsibility to set the tone of vulnerability and create the context for this sort of group accountability, but then I think that the team itself can and should serve as the primary and first line of accountability for itself.

I think that rightly understood, a team that has learned to be vulnerable together and has committed together to living out a group of values and performing to certain standards — that team can and should hold each other accountable to live those values and perform to those standards. And when one or more of them fails to do so — which is obviously going to happen from time to time, since teams are full of flawed, imperfect, humans — one or more of the others should and likely will (if that vulnerability and trust has been established) come alongside their struggling teammates and help them get back on track so that not only can those teammates get back to performing to the level they all committed to, but then also can the team, together, perform at an optimum level, focused on team outcomes.

6. No leader/manager/boss/executive/CEO should be above accountability.

This a big one. Some leaders act like they’re above their teams. They behave as if no one has a right to call them out on their toxic behaviors and attitudes. Watch out for those leaders. It’s almost a certainty that those leaders are cultivating an unhealthy environment on their teams, and likely, by extension, the organization. And at some point you have to ask yourself, Why will those leaders often go to such great lengths — sometimes even including lying, deception, or any number of things — to avoid any real accountability for their actions and behaviors?

The best leaders humbly and eagerly embrace group accountability and look forward to learning and growing from it. Rather than avoiding it or bristling at it, they invite it.

So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is that coaching and accountability should be thought of differently. The foundational principle to keep in mind is that accountability, rightly understood, is a shared thing among a group of people, including the leader. If a leader and team can embrace that sort of accountability, it can dramatically transform and improve the team’s dynamic and performance.


Thanksgiving, Cancer, and 5 Lessons about #Leadership


This time of year is always such an emotional rollercoaster for me.

Five years ago this month, I woke up early one morning and drove to the hospital. Later that morning, you see, I was scheduled to have part of my kidney removed because of the cancer that had rudely set up shop there.

Odd, the things I remember, and the things I don’t, about that morning. I remember waking up with an epic migraine. I remember driving through the darkness of the early morning with that epic migraine, and remember parking at the hospital, still with that epic migraine.

As I got out of my vehicle, the combination of the migraine and insane amount of anxiety I was feeling combined to make me vomit in the parking lot, though that in and of itself was an exercise in futility due to a process that I had to go through the day before in preparation for the surgery that I’ll not detail here (you’re welcome). It was quite a special moment. Hallmark wanted to make a movie about it, but I declined.

There were lots of other moments that I won’t bore you with. Some of them were funny to me. Others, not so much. I’ve talked about many of them before here, here, here, and here if you’re interested.

This month, though, is five years later; and I find myself feeling incredibly grateful. I also find myself reflecting on lessons learned.

I’m thankful for the dumb, fluke, phantom pain on the other, non-cancer-having side of my abdomen that sent me into the doctor that day five years ago. It was a pain that appeared for a day, was completely unrelated to anything, and was gone a day later.

I’m thankful the doctor ordered a CT of the other, non-cancer-having side of my abdomen, just wanting to check for and eliminate diverticulitis.

I’m thankful the radiologist happened to glance at the far edge of the CT, away from the area he/she was supposed to be looking at, and noticed the tumor on my kidney. The other kidney, on the other side. You see, the thing is, with kidney cancer, not only are you not supposed to get it in your 30’s; but usually, by way later in your life when you start to notice the symptoms typically associated with kidney cancer, it’s too late.

I’m thankful for a lot of things. Five years later, I’m thankful to be alive. I feel like that sounds overly dramatic, but I truly am. Every year this month, I make my annual pilgrimage to the hospital to check if cancer has yet again taken up residence on a kidney (or lymph node, or whatever). And every single year, it affects me. In the weeks leading up to that day, I can feel myself withdrawing a bit. I can feel fear begin to creep in again. If I let my mind go, I can quickly spiral into the darkness of fear and doubt.

But this year, the news was good. “No evidence of recurrence.” My, what sweet music to my ears that phrase is. I’m so grateful, because I know so many aren’t fortunate enough to hear that phrase. Since it’s now been five years, I get to skip next year and go back for my next scan in two years. I’m thankful for that too.

*I’m also incredibly thankful for a lot of the lessons that I’ve had to learn.

Lesson 1: It’s far easier to talk about vulnerability than it is to actually be vulnerable.

Though my ordeal with cancer was absolutely nothing compared to what so many battle and suffer through with their cancer journeys, it did make me have to wrestle with vulnerability and humanness in ways I hadn’t had to prior to the experience. I didn’t want to tell anyone I had cancer. Not even my parents. I really didn’t. As I mentioned in one of the posts I linked to above, I’m pretty sure that was rooted in selfishness and fear and whatever else, but whatever it was, I wasn’t able to be vulnerable.

Lesson 2: It drove home the reality that on any given day, people are wandering around the workplace with any number of unstated worries, pains, and fears.

It makes me think of that episode of The Office where Michael is so fixated on his birthday that he doesn’t realize that the rest of the group is trying to support Kevin as he waits to hear back from the doctor about his possible skin cancer. It was funny, as The Office always is; but also poignant, as The Office wasn’t given enough credit for being. Eventually, he comes around, though in typical Michael fashion, he still doesn’t quite get it.

Lesson 3: It strengthened my resolve to be a servant leader who cared more about people than anything else.

There are folks I’ve worked with that have been so supportive and awesome during these times. There are other folks I’ve worked with — fewer of them — who were horrible to me and most people around them most of the time. Experiencing that fortified my resolve to serve and lead in way that’s different.

Lesson 4: Cancer — and even the possibility of it — reminds me that there are some things we simply can’t control.

That doesn’t make it easy to accept, but it’s a reality with which we all have to wrestle.

Lesson 5: Life is short. Do meaningful work.

It may sound cliche, but that doesn’t make it untrue. When you consider that not one of us is guaranteed anything, it forces you ponder the meaning of your work. Why do we do what we do? Is it meaningful? Is it for ourselves? Is it for others? Are others’ lives better as a result of their interactions with us? Has our leadership led people further down the path toward being free, autonomous, and whole human beings?

I think I’ve prattled on long enough. Besides, depending when you’re reading this, you’ve either got turkey to get to, football to get to, a nap to get to, leftover turkey to get to, or some antacids to get to.

Happy Thanksgiving!

5 MORE Reasons Your New Hires Won’t Last

Furious George

Yesterday, we talked through five reasons your new hires won’t last. Continuing on in that vein today, here are five more reasons (we’ll number them 6 – 10, just to make it easier). Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be another bumpy ride.

6. Orientation and onboarding are largely reduced to a review of relevant policies and procedures before moving on to training on operational skills.

What’s missing? Culture. In an organization with a clear identity and culture, orientation and onboarding is just the next link in the chain, so to speak; and it’s here that new hires learn even more about this tribe of humans they’ve just joined. They’re given a closer look at “how we do things around here.” They should learn stories, and be introduced to symbols, traditions, and rituals (Pro tip: Omit any references to animal sacrifice at this point in orientation.). They should learn about the core values — what they mean, how they look in action, and what accountability around them looks like. And that’s just the beginning.

7. Training stinks for any number of reasons. 

This one almost deserves its own post, and maybe I’ll do that at some point. As a former HS educator, and as one involved in corporate training & development/organizational development for a good while now, I can tell you that there’s a lot of really great training out there. I can also tell you there’s a lot of pretty terrible training out there.

The far more complicated part is explaining why that’s the case. There are so many reasons and combinations of reasons that training can end up being less-than-amazing. (And before my non-training readers nod your heads in agreement too hard, not all — and probably not even most — of those reasons have to do with the training department. Many training issues can be traced back to larger organizational and/or systemic roots.)

For example — and this is only one of literally dozens — sometimes organizations make the mistake of starting from a timeframe. What I mean is that managers understandably feel shorthanded when they’re down a person, so naturally they want their new hire as soon as possible. Well, sometimes, somewhere, in some meeting, between two executives, they probably rather arbitrarily decided that, oh…say…two weeks sounded like a reasonable amount of time for new hire training. The problem is that that’s not even remotely close to how training and development is supposed to be designed. Believe it or not, the how-long-is-it-going-to-take part is near the end. And frankly, the presupposition that the new hire training model should be a nonstop, x-week, block of time is not one I’m willing to concede; but again, that’s for another post.

But sticking with this particular example, say a training team is given two weeks to train; and say that for whatever reason, they don’t feel able to push back and suggest a different methodology for determining learning objectives, timelines, and so on. In that scenario, they’re going to put together a two-week training curriculum, by gosh. And they’re going to train it. At the end of that two weeks, it may or may not (read: probably won’t) actually prepare new hires for what the managers on the other end are expecting them to be prepared for.

That’s just one example of how training issues can get a bit more complex than they appear at first glance. The bottom line, though, is that when a training program doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, people aren’t prepared for their jobs. And when people aren’t prepared for their jobs, they start to feel unprepared for their jobs (shocking, no?). And when they feel unprepared for their jobs, they begin to dread coming to those jobs. And when people dread coming to their jobs, eventually, if it doesn’t get better, they stop coming to those jobs so they can go work somewhere where they feel they’re given the tools to be successful.

8. They don’t get meaningful support after training.

From a developmental perspective, this is a ball that gets dropped an awful lot. When folks land in their branches or departments or teams, it’s not the time to take a hands-off approach. On the contrary, this is where the next link in their developmental chain should occur. Previous learning should be reinforced and applied to that context, and the groundwork should be put in place for continued growth and development. There should be coaching and mentoring that takes off from this point, and it should be planned coaching and mentoring that happens across the organization.

9. No one asks for their feedback.

How are you collecting feedback from folks during their first week? How about after two weeks? First month? Three months? Six months? You’d be amazed what you’ll learn by connecting with new hires at those intervals. You’ll be amazed how you’ll be able to adjust your processes from both a recruitment and training & development perspective based on what you learn over time from those conversations. Additionally, it means something to people when you ask what they think. It communicates to them that they matter.

10. The culture is terrible.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If they get there and people are negative, or their boss is a jerk, or performance standards are either non-existent or enforced arbitrarily, or teammates don’t seem to get along, or any number of things; they’re not going to want to stay. Why would they?

So what’s the bottom line? Here’s the scary part. As lengthy as these two posts were, there are still other reasons I edited out that can contribute to new hires jetting. However, these are some of the bigger ones, and should be a good place to start thinking through some things.

***On a different note, organizational culture and alignment is what I do, so if you’re interested in some formal help with any of these things, email me at matt@themojocompany.com. If you’re not ready for formal help, but would like to bounce ideas around, I’m game for that too. Same email address applies.