How a leader handles setbacks has an enormous impact on the people and culture of an organization. It is, of course, upsetting when expected performance is missed. A common approach is to find fault or blame, to launch an investigation committee or witchhunt. When that happens, everyone goes into survival mode: hiding, covering up, misrepresenting, and lying. No one learns anything except to not take risks and to cover-one’s-butt. The opposite approach is to get the team together to understand what caused the setback, make corrections and improve the organization’s capability to perform going forward. The focus is on problem-solving and improvement, not on blame or fault-finding.
Making the move from the first approach to the second is not easy because it involves mindset and behavior change for the leader, and a change in culture. No matter what the leader may say about this new approach, no one is going to trust that the new approach is for real until they see it demonstrated consistently and repeatedly.
Bob Legge works with companies to improve individual and organizational performance. His clients have included Fortune 500 companies, mid-size companies, non-profits, education and government. To find out more, contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (585) 305-7853. Bob’s website is http://www.boblegge.com.
For thirty years I’ve observed executives in interviews and meetings, during presentations, at social events, and so on. From the beginning I’ve been impressed with how the wisest, and usually most powerful, executives did the least amount of talking while others droned or pontificated at length. One of the most powerful tools executives and managers have is listening. Another is asking insightful questions. Try this: The next time you meet with an employee group, instead of going in with your agenda, just ask a couple questions, listen carefully and then show them you’ve listened. You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and they’ll be amazed at how good the meeting was.
I’ve been writing, consulting, and coaching on accountability for a long time, and it’s difficult to ignore examples in the news to compare and contrast leaders who are accountable and those who are not. Blaming others, forgetfulness, changing explanations, excuses, refusals to testify or respond to questions, spin, distractions, and long stories are characteristics of a lack of accountability. Most organizations I know have little tolerance for this kind of behavior. Accountability is taking full responsibility for actions and results. Eisenhower, for example, on the eve of D-Day wrote a letter in case the invasion was unsuccessful in which he took full responsibility for the failure. Thankfully, he didn’t have to issue that letter, but it demonstrates accountability. Woody Allen once said that the role of the leader is to show people how to behave. He had a good point.
Over the past two weeks I’ve had four different company presidents tell me that their managers are good at following action plans, but not so good at working together. Accountability applies to results and to behaviors. Both must be built into planning and accountability processes and then reviewed regularly. Posters with platitudes and statements of values mean nothing if managers aren’t demonstrating supportive behaviors.