Still learning after all of these years


My leadership team has a “stand up” meeting every Monday morning (well it is really a “sit down” done via phone because we are not all housed in the same office).  In an earlier blog post,  I talked about the fact that we are reading and reviewing the book How Did That Happen by Roger Connors and Tom Smith.  As we are moving into the last chapters,  the concept of creating a culture of accountability and the realization of how we still have a ways to go is coming together for all of us.

As a leader with twenty plus years of leadership experience, along with my passion for being a part of a high accountability culture that promotes development of high performing teams,  I have found that I still have some learning to do after all of these years…

This week’s chapter review of the book created a good conversation on the topic of accountability and how we as leaders, have spent much of our time holding people accountable  versus allowing them to own their own accountability.  It was important for me (and my team) to remember that there really is a big difference in having people be accountable versus having to hold them accountable.  Being accountable for our own results (or that of our team) is so much more empowering than being held accountable by someone else – don’t you agree?

When I googled the word hold, this is one of the definitions that popped up on my computer screen: keep or detain (someone).  Boy, that does not sound pleasant at all and certainly not very freeing or self-empowering!  It is almost a bit scary to think about someone detaining me…,  I really do not like the sound of handcuffs snapping together as my wrists are pulled behind my back (and no… that has never happened to me by the way).

My AHA moment during this conversation with my co-leaders came when we discussed how we have managed our communication in the past on some problem solving that needed to be done quickly.  With good intentions,  we tried to figure out the best way to move forward during some times of transition without having to pull people away from their work.  We knew everyone was busy,  we were short-staffed and frankly, meetings has become a dirty word around our office.  So we thought that if we (the leaders) could come up with the solutions,  we would put less burden on our associates… wrong!  We were trying to be caring and thoughtful but in reality, we messed up.  What is the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished…”?

By not having the people who were responsible in the execution of the plan involved from the beginning,  we took away their ownership… and ultimately took away their accountability…

Connors and Smith talk about the three paradoxes that typically show up when organizations are working to implement accountability:

  1. The paradox of success:  “the harder they (high performers) try to get people to take accountability, the less accountability people actually embrace.”  Why? Because forcing people to be accountable does not having the stickiness factor.  As soon as the pressure (force) is removed,  the accountability is removed with it.  As leaders,  we want people to “invest their hearts and minds and show a level of ownership that transcends any behavior that could be motivated by other tactics”, as Rogers and Connors so eloquently put it.
  2. The paradox of consequences: How do you hold the term accountability in your mind?  Is it about “someone suffer(ing) consequences for unmet expectations”?  As Rogers and Connors writes, ” True, accountability implies consequences, but those consequences are both positive and negative”.  Both positive and negative… wow,  if we can work to reframe our thinking that consequences are both good and bad and we seek to have good to great consequences, what might that do for our businesses (or at home for that matter…)?
  3. The paradox of shared accountability:   The bottom line is, “the ability of others to do the things they say they will do greatly affects your ability to fulfill the expectations for which others will hold you accountable.”  Clearly, we need to have a culture of accountability in our organizations (and our homes, churches and government centers…) so that everyone views accountability as a self-empowering and positive trait to get the results that we all are striving for.

So how do we change this?  By creating a culture where Accountability is not a negative word but one of empowerment that speaks to our “hearts and our minds…” to create a true feeling of ownership both individually and collectively as a group.  I highly recommend reading Connors and Smith’s books to sift out a few gems that I guarantee will make a positive impact on you and your team!

Where does your organization fall within the Accountability meter?  Are people HELD accountability or are they allowed to BE accountable?

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