In a recent client conversation, a CEO said to me, “He’s really (really) smart, but it’s just hard to hold him accountable. On top of that, he isn’t approachable because he gets really defensive and reminds us all that he knows what he’s doing.” But in reality, the rest of the executive team doesn’t really know what this executive-level leader is doing. His goals are vague, his metrics aren’t really solid measures of success, and he statuses everything “Green” in preparation for their weekly executive team meeting. And, no one wants to challenge him.
My last blog, 6 Excuses for Avoiding an Executive Coach (and Why You Should Think Again) talked about all the negative internal chatter (aka, excuses) we give ourselves for not wanting to have an Executive Coach. That blog also pointed out some of the key business benefits of Executive Coaching. What do some of those benefits actually look like and how do I know if I need executive leadership coaching? More specifically what is coaching ROI?
The famous mountain climber, Phil Powers, said it best during an interview on NPR’s "This I Believe” segment: “Concentrating on how I move through the world is important. It’s why I reach mountain summits and life goals with energy to spare.”
As a best practice, Powers uses a concept taught to him by his mentor, Paul Petzoldt. Penzoldt recommended a ‘rest’ (i.e., a slight pause) with each climbing step taken. It allows a climber to move swiftly, yet still find a brief pause in every step. The cadence of this sequence creates, in the end, a higher degree of forward-movement with what seems like less effort.
Most leaders dive into leadership without a second thought. I love the optimism that comes when people find themselves suddenly leading people (vs. tasks and initiatives they’ve been responsible for completing). The problem, though, is that most leaders simply don’t see the impact their leadership approach has on those around them (positive or negative). They don’t pause while climbing the mountain of business objectives for a rest step. They don’t give themselves quick moments of pause that allow for slowing just enough to gain the energy to keep moving forward.
Couple this lack of ‘pause’ with how fast everything moves in today’s world. Every motion, every thought, every piece of information we gain in a 24/7 world makes the concept of ‘pause’ seem ridiculous. It can even make us feel unworthy, lost, and unproductive and some senior leaders aren't wired to slow down to speed up. Senior leaders learning to skill to stop to think and focus on long term strategy is a huge part of their leadership development. Executive coaching, and the coaching relationship, is a good way to hold yourself accountable to developing these new habits.
From a leadership perspective, there’s a real thirst for increasing leadership accountability. Executives have recently asked me various questions that linger over the concept of building team accountability to help them achieve their strategic plans while creating high performing teams:
“How do I build accountability in teams?”
“What else can I do to get people to do what we need them to do?”
“How can I hold a team member to be held accountable and still be seen as a good leader?”
"How do I balance leadership accountability and personal accountability when building a team?"
"Creating a culture of accountability is hard, how do I provide constructive feedback without being the bad guy?"
Building team accountability requires that we understand a few dynamics because it’s more complicated than we might recognize. It goes above and beyond the responsibility for the outcomes, which is obviously important, but effective leaders know that they need a culture of accountability in their teams that provide the inputs needed to achieve the expected team performance.
If you believe the adage, ‘time is money,’ then you’re saying that the concept of time (and the elapse of that time) costs you and your company money. Therefore, maximizing that time and using it in the right way matters. Most executives don’t need to work on their literal area of business expertise (although continuous learning is important), but what many fail to recognize is that leadership, too, is a skill. The minute you became a leader, everything shifted. At that moment, you didn’t just have to do the tasks you’ve always done; now you had to also lead people to do what they do best, every single day.
Most clients I’ve worked with say they understand the key role accountability plays in making a company operate more efficiently (and therefore more effectively). They see the relevance of team accountability and its place in the bigger scheme of things. And the research backs up what they think. Performance cultures have higher levels of personal accountability and as a result, they also have higher levels of overall company performance, employees feel a higher level of commitment to their jobs, and employee morale is higher (U.S. Office of Personnel Management).
As leaders focus on defining their core business strategies, as they work to clarify the company’s longer-term vision, as they encourage innovative thinking and more, they dream of empowering their people to do the work that needs to be done to accomplish the company’s overall strategic intent.
I love what I do for a living. I meet the most incredible people who are building amazing companies. Most recently, I was sharing this observation with a client CEO and he responded with, “Well, if I could only do it without people!” I had to laugh.
The “problem with people” is pervasive. After all, a single human being is complex. Multiply that by a lot of human beings (aka, your employees), and you can have one huge complicated hairball of an organization. So how do you get to this thing called, “High Performance?” Indeed, the Path of Progress toward high performance is a journey. Let’s focus, though, on how to begin the journey of accountability in the workplace to drive team performance and help you achieve your goals.
We read a lot these days about strategic leadership and tactical leadership (as we should). Leaders find themselves up against a multitude of scenarios and situations, all of which they’re supposed to magically handle in the right way with the right methods for each situation. When you study leadership, you quickly discover the massive complexity that surrounds it. So let’s take just one slice of strategic vs tactical leadership and dissect it for the purpose of your own reflective thinking about what kind of leader you tend to be (and the pros/cons that surround these tendencies).
The slice of leadership we’ll look at is the tactical leader vs. the strategic leader. Both are needed, but when you’re trying to lead a team (or teams) of people toward a common endpoint and/or if you’re trying to grow a company, understanding the differences between these two management styles is imperative. Without a sense of understanding around your own leadership tendencies, you can’t move the needle on much of anything let alone work towards achieving a strategic plan or objective.
Sometimes, you just have to slow down to speed up.
Communication Leads to Better Connectivity and Team Accountability
Communication is a very powerful thing, yet we talk about it so lightly. We toss the word ‘communication’ around as if it’s a catch-all for…everything. Yet, it is communication that aids us in the confirmation of the truth in certain scenarios and it is communication that provides clarity, definition, and intention to our words. The challenge with communication is that everyone’s communication truth can be taxing. Determining how to communicate to bring out individual truths (yours and your team’s) can be a powerful tool in developing higher levels of accountability and can lead to better connectivity throughout your organization. Knowing the people you’ll be speaking to and having an awareness around individual communication preferences is the most effective way to align individual and corporate truths.
It’s fairly understood that great leaders don’t lead processes; they lead people. You’re probably aware, too, that great bosses have truly honed their skills in the areas of communication, information sharing, clarifying expectations, and celebrating wins.
Within the context of great leadership, though, comes crazy-busy days, last minute interruptions, sudden calls to meetings, paperwork, and more. If you’re spinning in one of these moments in time, this at-a-glance checklist might help you focus on continuing the maximize your leadership impact when you’re in a pinch.