Leadership and Personal Accountability
The following article was submitted by Tom Zahniser. Tom is a fan of our book “Winning With Accountability, The Secret Language of High Performing Organizations.” A leader of CEO think tanks in the Seattle area, Tom purchased the book for all of his members. We think you’ll agree that his thoughts are very much to the point. Please read and enjoy.
Who Is Holding You Accountable?
by Tom Zahniser
Why is it that senior executives, the people most responsible for fostering accountability in their organizations, are often not held accountable themselves? Often, because of the power they wield, their subordinates are not willing to risk giving candid feedback or holding them accountable. With no one holding them accountable, it can become seductively easy for senior execs to put off tough decisions, let difficult actions slide, or act in other ways that do not benefit themselves or their stakeholders.
Recently I read Henry Evans’ “Winning With Accountability, The Secret Language of High Performing Organizations.” From my perspective this book is timely. With the collapse of financial markets,high profile bank failures, and government bailouts, the lack of accountability of business leaders is in the national spotlight. For many companies, this lack may lead to unwanted legislation and regulation, as well as lower performance and effectiveness at all levels, including the senior management level.
Although leaders hold others accountable to a demanding standard of performance, my question is, do they apply the same level of scrutiny and specificity to themselves? A “do what I say and not what I do” approach negatively affects the commitment and performance of everyone in the organization.
Personal Accountability and Effectiveness
Recently, one of my CEO clients was excited about an impending deal to sell his business. A substantial portion of the purchase price was to be paid out of future earnings. He confessed concern about whether his company could generate the higher earnings needed to pay the purchase price. He hoped that by taking a more active personal role in the sales process, he would help his company achieve the desired result. I asked why, if this worried him, he hadn’t jumped in earlier? He then admitted that focusing on sales was difficult for him and would force him out of his comfort zone. He was ashamed to admit it, but he realized that he might perform to a higher standard if he were reporting to someone else.
After this revealing dialogue we included my client’s fellow CEOs in the conversation by asking this question: “If you had someone overseeing your performance who had the power to fire you, are there things you’d do differently?” Many in the group said that they would either start doing something they knew they should do; or they’d stop doing something they knew they shouldn’t.
Although all of these CEOs are successful and running profitable businesses, they were able to identify examples of their own under-achievements, times when they had sacrificed performance for comfort and let themselves off the hook. They recognized that what is true for their direct reports is also true for them–a lack of accountability leads to lower performance and effectiveness.
A tough part of any top executive’s job is carrying the weight of responsibility that comes with sitting where the buck stops. Though they may be fiercely independent and like being their own boss; they must allow themselves to be held accountable if they are to be successful as champions of performance and accountability in others.
Seek First To Be Accountable Yourself
Henry Evans has said that “leaders don’t make commitments; leaders make promises.” People listen carefully to leaders and take their commitments as solemn promises. Then they watch the behavior asking themselves, “Is this someone I can trust?”
You might ask yourself the same question: Can I trust me? How good is my word? If I could trust myself more would it change the way I feel about myself? Would it change the way I lead? Would it affect the commitment of my people to me and the business?
If, as a result of asking these questions, you want to strengthen the power of your word and enhance your leadership capabilities, try the following:
Be transparent: Create a clear, complete and specific outline of what you are responsible to deliver for your organization
Be accountable: Share your plan with a trusted group of people and ask them to review your plan, give you feedback, and meet regularly with you to monitor progress..
Be honest: Look at your current commitments; act on those you need to and let go of those you are not fully committed to. Also make sure that everyone who is affected understands what you are doing.
These are tough times, and organizations are fighting for survival. Fear and anxiety surround us. If we look at this fear and trace it to its roots, we see that it comes from a lack of trust in others, in ourselves, and in our ability to survive the challenges we face. Earn the trust of yourself and everyone else by consistently coming through on your word. When you do what needs to be done despite any difficulty or discomfort, you create confidence that you and your business will survive. Set a high standard for yourself and then walk the talk. This will give you the right to ask others to step up. Henry’s book, “Winning With Accountability, The Secret Language of High Performing Organizations” provides methods you can apply immediately. I’ve seen my CEO members do it.
QUESTION TO OUR READERS:
“If you had someone overseeing your performance who had the power to fire you, are there things you’d do differently?
Do you feel challenged by this article? Learn how to become an accountable individual and developer a high-performing culture by reading our book.