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Accountability In Leadership

For a variety of reasons I have recently been encouraged to consider where accountability sits within our businesses and cultures. Many would agree that it has always been one of the core inputs to success as a leader. However, how many of us can state with certainty that it is well understood in theory and more importantly in practice and application?

Accountability is defined as, the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner. (1)

The word obligation is interesting in the above definition. I see many managers who balk at this type of ‘obligation’. It is often easier to work in a space of denial rather than acceptance that leadership is an earned right not a response to a title and is never enhanced through bullying or threatening behaviour. Embracing the responsibility of leadership and being transparent in all that you do is a great next step to leadership improvement and credibility in the eyes of others.

Many leaders I have worked with would nod at reading this, acknowledging the importance of being accountable and holding their team members accountable. Interestingly various studies and personal experience highlights that often the same leaders direct reports differ on how this is applied in reality. After all, as a leader how your team members perceive you and make choices as to whether to follow you is a decision made by them, not you.

Being accountable is an attitude and behaviour. As leaders we must hold ourselves accountable first.

What we do matters more than what we say.

Over the past few months I have been making notes as to the types of behaviours, attributes and attitudes that restrict or block people/leaders from being accountable. It is not an exclusive list although does highlight many of the core restrictive inputs to being accountable, especially prevalent in leaders:

  1. Denial: inability to see their part to play and contribution to cultures, situations and outcomes. Quite often this relates to the element of fear mentioned below.
  2. Pride: unwillingness to accept the views of others; inflexible thinking; arrogance and other related attitudes will stifle how accountable you are prepared to be. Importantly, others will see this very clearly, impacting your ability to influence and develop trust in and from your team.
  3. Recognition of impact: taking credit for work completed by others and conversely not accepting when things go wrong. Relates to blame.
  4. Failure to acknowledge or understand the culture of your business and sub-cultures that exist within smaller business units and teams.
  5. Blaming others for what is in existence or where it is at. You are the leader…be accountable and lead!
  6. Lack of self-awareness and emotional intelligence: understand the influence and impact you have on others. Use it to the advantage of all. The satisfaction and benefits far outweigh the stress of the alternatives.
  7. Filtered information acceptance: be honest and upfront in your conversations, even when it is hard…in fact, especially when it is hard.
  8. Fear: the fear of the unknown; change; your own capability; how things will be accepted and many other negative fear-based elements can stop accountability in its tracks.
  9. Make it about themselves: inability or unwillingness to put others first. Being a leader is a privilege and acknowledging that your role is about other people first and foremost, is a big step for many however is a critical aspect of effective leadership.

As leaders we are obligated to lead, which includes setting our team members up for success. It is unfair and unreasonable to expect people to understand our expectations if we have not clearly explained the context and parameters. Clarity matters. The onus is on us first. This can only be achieved if the responsibilities, tasks and expectations are clear and understood in the first place. A great way to lose trust and credibility is to hold others accountable for what we have not done initially and reinforced along the way.

To expand upon this point the simple step-process below that I created some years ago highlights 5 core steps that assist leaders in practice. It is a simple reminder that we can only hold others accountable to what was set up and clarified correctly in the initial phases of the relationship or role i.e. be clear about responsibilities, ownership and expectations. The ability to measure the performance including inputs and outcomes of every one of your employees and the team as a whole is important. Lastly, supporting the process of improvement and change through coaching and development shows that you care enough to be part of the solution rather than a manager who prefers to challenge from afar and criticise without assisting to improve the situation.

  1. Responsibilities
  2. Accountability
  3. Performance
  4. Measurement
  5. Development/Change

One of the key elements of accountability is the comfort to have the ‘right’ conversations. Being accountable is addressing all issues and providing feedback for positive behaviours also. This is not something that we pick and choose depending on our own levels of comfort or fear. You are either all in or you are out!

Strong relationships with high trust allow us to have the right conversations. In all of our relationships, both inside and outside of the workplace, we earn the right to hold others accountable. A surface level conversation once every few months will never cut it. I believe there is no conversation that cannot be had – with the caveat that it is what happens in between the formal discussions that enables us to ‘go there’.

Assessing the reality of situations and relationships is an important skill to gain confidence in these situations. Emotional intelligence and the ability to assess where an individual is ‘at’ will provide a platform for trust, connection and relationships with meaning. Once established most of these conversations become less stressful, relative to the depth of relationship.

One of the biggest challenges to accountability is politics and gamesmanship. These negative behaviours have very little useful contribution to holding ourselves accountable let alone others. In fact, whether it is clear to you or not most people can see politics in play early on – this is a relationship and credibility killer.

In my view those who feel the need to spend most of their time in this space often lack genuine direction, confidence and self-esteem. This style is a way to compensate for gaps such as these, along with skill and capability to own the relationships. Being accountable is a choice, but don’t fool yourself into thinking others cannot see through the masquerade.

Being consistent in your approach and following through on your commitments is a significant contributor to being seen as accountable.

Be an accountable leader by helping your team members through coaching and building a connection where the responses to your questions have depth and meaning. Most people cannot interpret feedback to the point where they are able to translate this information into a series of meaningful actions leading to growth, improvement or change. Interestingly, feedback instead of coaching is what actually occurs more often than not. Feedback has its place within the coaching methodology or framework but is neither a replacement for nor the same as coaching. The core mantra here is to give much more than you take.

The brief video below from Kevin Eikenberry highlights the importance of knowing that accountability is everyone’s responsibility…including yours!

 

(1)   http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/accountability.html#ixzz339dgjVXG

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Leadership, The Coach and Coaching

I was fortunate to attend an evening hosted by one of my local football clubs on Friday night. The guest speaker was Ange Postecoglou, head coach of our local nationally based football (soccer) side, the Brisbane Roar. Ange has represented Australia playing football and has successfully transitioned into coaching ranks.

Ange was able to offer significant insight into his own style and the great success his club has had in recent seasons. TheBrisbane Roar FCre were several points about leadership and team culture that particularly resonated for me. A selection of the key points raised by Ange are highlighted below, followed by my own thoughts about how they translate to the business environment.

Point 1: The team exists because of the players and their ability to perform and follow the team plan. All other people in the club, including the coach, CEO and other staff are there because of the players and they should be served accordingly.

My Thoughts: This is as true in business as in sport. As conveyed by Ken Blanchard and other thought leaders, the ability and willingness to serve your team as individual’s and a unit is one of the great leadership mindsets. You are there for your team, not the other way around.

Point 2: If you really believe in something, you must be prepared to make decisions and stick by them. Ultimately the buck stops with the head coach, so make sure you are in a position to make decisions and reinforce them through action.

My thoughts: Every leader has their own style. Some are more decisive, democratic, inclusive etc. however the leader should lead. This requires the ability to make decisions, align them to business and team goals and compel others to buy into the concepts because overall accountability still sits with the you as the leader and it is difficult to achieve on your own.

Point 3: Although Ange acknowledged he is ‘not a fan’ of confrontation, he is more than willing to take it on when it comes his way.

My thoughts: Although I have met very few people who enjoy confrontation (there is a difference between ability to manage confrontation and enjoying it), the skill to effectively manage confrontational situations is key to leadership. Emotional intelligence, engagement and empathy are important in my experience – reading the situation clearly by understanding the other person’s perspective and reasons why the situation has escalated help to manage confrontation.

Point 4: Not everyone will fit into your team culture, plan and goals, even if they are very good players and stalwarts of the team. (Note: when Ange took over coaching the Brisbane Roar team in 2009, he chose to release a handful of key players and the captain, which, although unpopular with supporter’s and the media at the time, have proven to be the right moves).

My thoughts: This is an interesting point. Through force of conviction, clear goals and direction, Ange was able to identify those player’s who were willing and flexible enough to transition across to the new team culture. ‘Star’ players and high performance historically does not necessarily translate to continued success within a different culture and/or set of expectations.

Point 5: Performance – it is OK to make mistakes if you are playing the team way. Be prepared to allow player’s to make mistakes, but not if they are playing as individual’s. Be brave and allow the players to express themselves, within the team guidelines.

My thoughts: Within my team and when I am facilitating leadership development sessions, I often discuss the concept of boundaries and expectations. Among other expectations, it is imperative to set clear direction and limits so that all team member’s are aware of guidelines, where they fit in, what they will be measured upon and how they are supported. Without it you are encouraging individualism, creating confusion and an environment of assumptions. I have found it is about finding the balance between expectation-setting and providing enough space to be innovative, creative and proactive.

Point 6: Ange would prefer to see the team play the team way and adhere to the team structure and lose than get a good result by not following the team plan. He was able to offer examples of games where he was happy overall with the effort, organisation and structure of the game but the result did not go the team’s way. Alternatively he has on occasion been unhappy with the team’s response even with a good result. His message was clear, how we get there is just as important, if not more so, than the end result!

My thoughts: I could not agree more with this concept. Too often I see managers rewarding and recognising employees based on the end result, with no regard as to how it was achieved. I interpreted this message as the ‘right’ journey will more often than not provide the ‘right’ result and the team culture, ethic and standard will be reinforced even further as a result. This point focuses on the ‘how’. Ultimately, the long-term culture and level of understanding benefits from this mindset.

This also relates to the belief from some that ‘the end justifies the means’, which I do not support. I have often seen greater growth and learning occur for someone through the sequences contained within the journey more so than benefits achieved from the outcome. The outcome in itself is a short-lived effect – the path to get there has many opportunities to learn and contribute. Developing a strong team brand, aligned to values and integrity will always create a team dynamic and culture that has long-term benefits, even through the challenge of staff turnover and transition periods.

Point 7: Each morning, the players have to shake the hand and acknowledge every other player, staff member and employee of the club that they come across.

My thoughts: Another interesting concept. Although it feels a little contrived, ‘forcing’ this initially may have felt unnatural to some player’s, however I see the point. Being present and engaging those in your team and beyond creates a dynamic and inclusive environment. Hopefully this becomes a natural part of the culture and ultimately more ‘real’ for those involved, however initially creating a team standard more overtly has obvious benefit. Essentially, show an interest in your people because you are actually interested not because you feel you should!

Point 8: You play for what’s on the front of the jersey (team jumper) not what’s on the back!

My thoughts: I love this point! The front of the jumper has the team logo (Brisbane Roar); national competition logo (A-League); and the sponsors logo. Ange is reinforcing that the player should respect and be proud of the club, the association that provides the opportunity to play and the sponsors who enable the team to succeed through sponsorship and funding. The back of the jumper has the player’s name and player number. The message is clear – in the Roar culture, play for yourself and you won’t fit in to his team. In business, focus on your needs only and you are missing the whole point of leadership!!

Point 9: Taking shortcuts has implications. Ownership for the team’s success must be held by the entire team. Leadership traits are the responsibility of all.

My thoughts: I am a keen advocate of developing leadership skills in people, even if they do not have direct reports. Leadership is more than a role or title – it is first and foremost an attitude, with the skills and traits that effective leaders display being able to be learned by almost anyone. It takes significant effort and time to develop though, with no silver bullet to learning and application of leadership. Of course, how well these skills are portrayed is critical, but the point that leadership within the team is the responsibility for all makes perfect sense. There is the leader and there are those who lead!

Overall, there were many interesting points raised on the night. Although the context between sports coaching, business and leadership has been written about many times, the first-hand examples and theories provided by Ange in his role as a successful coach of a national sporting team, have many parallels to business. How many can you identify with?

I am very interested in your own thoughts and comments relating to sports coaching, leadership and aligned successes.

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Filed under Culture, Leadership

Seeking Work-Life Balance: Myth Or Manageable

I was recently fortunate enough to be invited to participate on a panel in my workplace focusing on work-life balance – a phrase that is possibly overused and misunderstood and a term that I have read conflicting opinions on in recent months.

The panel forum consisted of a number of employees in the audience and 4 panel member’s, including myself, who each pitched out their own thoughts on the topic and then received questions from the audience. It was a very interesting exercise as I found that each of our situations was quite different. Whereas we may have been in similar roles at work, our roles and focus at home was quite varied regarding how we manage our time and the choices we make. However, there were some consistent themes that carried over between speakers.

My view is that work-life balance is an extremely important facet of my life. I have significant responsibility in my role – something I take quite seriously, particularly the support, satisfaction and growth of my team. However, nothing is more important to me than my family.

My work provides me an income, a great deal of satisfaction and has contributed to who I am, my knowledge, values and self-awareness but I always seek to balance what is required from me at work with that at home. It requires developing a  strong skillset around delegation; time management / prioritisation; recruiting and developing the right team and culture; building trust and many others attributes. I work with many managers who do not find a balance often because they struggle to understand what is most important to them.

A recent article highlights research that demonstrates that many of us are finding this balance more difficult to achieve. Key findings include:

  • The majority (78%) of those who work overtime prefer payment to time off in lieu
  • 75% of part-time workers believe work/life balance is becoming harder
  • 83% of full-time workers believe it is becoming harder
  • 24% of workers earning less than $50,000 are finding it much harder
  • 65 per cent of workers perform work tasks or answer work-related calls when they are on holiday
  • 35 per cent of employees never work on holidays or days off

Source: Work Life Balance Harder Than Ever

It requires a definitive view and focus on goals and direction, otherwise it is too easy to get ‘pulled into’ other people’s needs and wants. Often these wants seem urgent but in fact, are not critical. This is where relationships, communication and prioritisation are key.

This is a large topic that I am briefly touching on, but I would like to share my key thoughts as presented during the forum:

  • Understanding what is important to me
  • Understanding what is important to others – my family and my team
  • Surround myself with a good team – provides opportunity and ability to delegate and share workload
  • Develop my leadership skillset to be effective and efficient
  • Prioritise…Prioritise…
  • Find what you enjoy most…do more of it
  • Find what you enjoy least…remove as much of this as possible
  • Understand values and beliefs for yourself and of those closest to you
  • Communication and clarity are key
  • Work with and for your family and team…not at them
  • Take and maintain control of your choices and decision-making
  • Tell and show those most important to you that you love them…regularly!

One or more of these points may resonate with you and hopefully stimulate thought about where these attributes, actions and skills sit in your life. I would also be interested to know what you have done or work at to strike the ‘right’ balance in your life.

Steve Riddle    www.coachstation.com.au

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Filed under Leadership