An employee is terminated but when their colleagues go to human resources to shed light on leadership improprieties, they are informed that there were other issues at hand and quickly dismissed.
A new president takes the helm at the company, and spends the first year making significant impact, plenty of allies and great results. Then in the second year, they abuse their influence, trust and power in such a way that those who hear of the change in the leader’s stripes are under their spell and ignore the concerns, or at least minimize them.
Executive leadership hear about the temperament of a particular leader in their organization, but tell everyone that’s just how that person is and it’s not a big deal. To the executives the leader gets great results but to the employees in the know, the leader is abusive and plays favorites.
These three scenarios all have the same core problem – the leaders in the organization have failed to create a working measure of accountability for their leaders.
It’s interesting to see how managers give reviews to their employees but the reverse is not true. In many organizations, the leader’s accountability is to metrics, sales and stock price, and not to behaviors and employee well-being.
A systematic change to how the organization ensures leadership accountability, adopted and implemented fairly from the top leadership, will help transform the leadership culture in any workplace. Here are some foundational steps in which to accomplish true leadership accountability in your company.
- Publicly commit to change. Organizations should speak with all leaders and all employees to inform the change to culture and the overall goal of fair standards of accountability to leaders as well. You will need to set clear expectations to your leaders beforehand and release those who don’t by in immediately. By proclaiming this to the entire organization, you are also setting yourself up to be held to this initiative form employees. It’s the necessary start but scary for all involved.
- Ensure proper processes for concerns. Create your process for voicing concerns – whether from employees, poor leadership performance, or observations of behavior. Refine as you go but ensure everyone knows who and how to properly question leadership, whether it’s direct talk to the leader themselves without repercussions or bullying, or to their leader or HR. Creating the processes to foster this culture change will strengthen the success of accountability.
- Investigate ALL concerns. A company that truly values the voice of it’s employees will check into any and every concerns raised by them, not matter how insignificant. It’s more than just saying you value them by celebrating their work anniversary or pointing to your core values, it’s when sensitive situations arise that the organization and leaders truly tell the employees how they value them. Do not dismiss any concern, even from the supposedly poorest performer or employee that is a “troublemaker”. Favoritism and assumptions in any form is not a true pathway to true accountability.
- Act like the issue actually occurred. While the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” should be held throughout all items, what does that mean for the claimant of an infraction of leadership? By excusing a claim away, you are basically stating that the person raising the question is guilty of fabrication, which is a guilty charge. All parties should be held to the same standard, and both be innocent until proven otherwise. By acting on the claim itself you consider the innocence of all involved until there are enough empirical facts to render a fair decision.
- Take the personalities out of the equation. As mentioned before, sometimes organizations dismiss employee concerns because of an employee that’s a chronic complainer or stirs the pot. And those companies often ignore the bullying and lies of a leader because they’re a dynamic public figure, great personality, and/or get great results. Personalities will lead to a subjectiveness that taints an objective look into the concern being brought forth. Remove the person and concentrate on the issue to ensure fair accountability.
- Check your biases at the door. The unconscious – and conscious, deliberate – biases that many individuals have can marginalize the most legitimate concern before it starts. It can unconscioulsy let a leader off the hook and denigrate the culture as well as those who are being silenced. Biases are not limited to race, gender and culture, they can be held to appearance, economic status and even personalities. Again, it’s another aspect to taking personalities out of the equation, but by looking omre at the internal biases of those are responsible for keeping accountability fair.
- Don’t take a leader’s word just because they are a leader. Studies suggest that 60 to 96 percent of people lie, and the numbers suggest that leaders do it more than employees. So given that the majority of leaders have empirically told a lie, why should a company give carte blanche to a leader to take their word at face value? Until proven out, any allegation towards any leader should not be excused away because of their position. In fact, it should be more closely scrutinized and proven out.
- Consistency proves out your true accountability. Employees align with culture based on the observations of their leaders. When leaders aren’t open to and held accountable, employees disengage, but when leaders are held to that same standard as others, employees take quick notice and will slowly start to align when they see consistency and fairness and leadership behavior align as well.
Holding leaders truly and consistently accountable is probably the most difficult part of culture that any organization will ever undertake. A company that exalts culture, values and mission to be more important than any one individual who doesn’t truly align with them will be a mindset that allows this change to properly manifest.
Pledge as a leader to allow yourself, and your leadership team, to be subject to checks and balances that will create better engagement and ultimately better results in the performance of the entire team.
Earlier this week, Chicago White Sox manager Tony Larussa – the Hall of Fame Manager from the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals – said that because one of his younger (and talented) players failed to honor the “unwritten rules” of the game by swinging on a 3-0 pitch in a lopsided game and hitting a home run, that player would be disciplined.
As such Larussa has been the subject of much scorn in news and social outlets.
In a sport that has been losing fans steadily over the years and at a crossroads of making the game accessible for fans and players, this old-school style of thinking is symptomatic of other old-school thinking in every industry.
Times change. Technology changes. Employee and customer needs change. So should methods and leadership styles.
Because employees and customers have more free agency than ever before to walk away from poor experiences or toxic leadership, outdated polices or unwritten (or unforgiving) rules, it creates an urgency for leadership to think differently than ever before.
And if we truly think differently, it will naturally come out in our actions. Just thinking it – and saying that you do – without the actions to verify your words is hollow leadership.
The rising stars of leadership know this intrinsically. As a result of their thinking and acting in newer and next level ways, they will be the builders of the next brands, win the market share, and supplant stodgy thinking because of their ability to understand the meta of what is needed in the marketplace. Not what is used to be.
How are we approaching our leadership thinking today, and working it into true actions that reveal a true heart for change that matters to others, and not our sacred ideals?
Take a look around you and it won’t be difficult to find the following pervasive cultures in business today:
- Rudeness & vulgarity
- Law breaking
- Lack of respect
- Apathy for facts and details
- Public persona differs from private persona
- Tearing down others
And these trends aren’t indigenous to business, as we see them just as much in politics, schools, communities, and even the family.
But when you look carefully, there is still a craving for behaviors that stem from solid character and courtesy. Respect and professionalism are still sought after today, perhaps more so in the midst of the “shock value” “tell-it-like-it-is” “win-at-all-costs” attitudes.
Consider how you could impact your world when your leadership embodies these still-honored traits:
Professionalism. When someone dresses appropriately, talks appropriately, and acts respectfully, people notice. When your language is clean, your behavior is controlled, and you present yourself in a respectable manner, you make others feel good about doing business with you. And you also help them feel good about themselves. It’s sets a positive example and tone for influencing your sphere and what people should expect from you.
Punctuality, even early. Let’s face it, in our hyper-scheduled world, everyone has been late from time to time. But let’s take away those external variables and picture the impact it would have on business and society when more people were on time or early to their work shifts, doctor appointments, and service calls. Want to build a reputable personal brand? Arrive to your appointments 15 minutes early. Service companies can also benefit by scheduling and arriving early instead of the last 20 minutes of the time window you quoted. Have the orders filled and shipped a day ahead of the tracking. Be on the conference call 5-10 minutes early instead of dialing in when the moderator has started. Punctuality sows the respect you have for others who you interact with.
Authenticity. This takes shape in two ways: 1) Being the same person in public as you are in private; 2) Speaking honestly towards people and not hiding information, concerns, or intents. How many companies have met with a long-time business partner only to meet later that week with a competitor to undercut the incumbent? If the incumbent knew of any issues, your relationship would be strengthened by your authenticity; you would be doing them a favor as a trusted partner to help them improve, and letting them know of the decisions you may face if changes aren’t made. Businesses and individuals can only be effective by working together towards goals, and not hiding from each other on their own agendas.
Law-abiding. In my career, I’ve seen individuals carry on the following infractions: Break labor laws. Ignore sanitation and liquor regulations. Lobby to change words in laws to enable them to break a current law. Go against their own internal policies but hold others accountable for those same policies. The list goes on. The by-product of these behaviors is none of those leaders have any credibility in their sphere of influence. When a leader complies with rules and honors the structure of work and society, people will respect them and do likewise. Anything less will lead to anarchy in both professional and private lives.
Meaningful words and speech. Words mean things, whether in speech or in writing. Linguists, authors, and biblical pastors will promote the value and meaning of words. No mis-speaking excuses here. If your words are carefully chosen, and selected to edify rather than blast or tear down, you actually jump a major communication hurdle that others trip over. By working on your spoken and written skills, you can enable others to better understand you, and will heighten the ability for your teams to communicate clearly as well. Speak authentically as well as effectively.
Serving and edifying others. When a division president gets terminated for cheating on the numbers in order to hit a certain metric, they only serve themselves and leave everyone else to pick up the pieces. Serving others means working for the mutual benefit of the team as a whole. Leaders are not islands unto themselves, the connotation of leader means involving self with other people. Servant leadership is not trite or passe, it’s a vital mindset and the core definition of why politicians and police officers are deemed “public servants”. Others before self changes the world every time.
Respect. Many people have the mindset that others need to give them respect first before they give it. That’s like waiting for a boomerang to come back when you haven’t thrown it yourself. Respect is always given first before it can be gained. One study has shown that respect is a by-product of trust and knowledge; the trust must always be present for any respect to be meaningful. Be a trustworthy leader and liberally give respect to everyone to show them how much value they truly have.
Details matter. Conversations such as: “Hudson St versus Hudson Ave, same thing,” “What difference does it make?” Or “We spent $1200 on such-and-such” when it was $1000 may seem insignificant, but they convey apathy to the small facts. Lack of care for details destroys credibility, and many times communicates incorrect information that may have harmful consequences. Details can trip up if we focus too compulsively on them, but can also trip us up if we ignore them, such examples being the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in the 1980’s. Take care of the little things, they always impact the larger picture.
If our collective leadership embodies these mindsets that are still valued today, we can transform our worlds into something truly remarkable. Professionalism still matters, and those who positively impact their world and subsequent generations of leaders are still in high demand.