Being an accountable leader
In my 25 plus years of working as an employee, consultant and leadership coach there have been several themes that continue to recur when working with senior leaders, many linked to being an accountable leader.
Earlier in my career it was initially surprising to me how many senior leaders were genuinely stressed and deeply concerned about their capability to lead others, regularly questioning whether they have earned the right to lead. In some cases they were losing sleep and living unhealthy lifestyles due to the real or perceived pressure of their roles.
I now recognise that much of this angst and lack of self-belief has been developed over time based on habitual, intrinsic and external influences, both perceived and real. Excitingly, for the same reasons, these skills and attributes can be grown to turn the negative aspects into positives.
The self-delusional view that, “I wouldn’t be in this role or position if I did not possess these skills and attributes” has a ring of arrogance and is the opposite to the type of attitude that is required to promote ongoing development in self and others. But it is an attitude that too many leaders display.
The list below is neither exclusive nor exhaustive, however represents the most prevalent behaviours that stop our leaders from being effective in their roles and accountable to their team. Conversely, when applied with conviction and meaning, they are five of the most prominent ‘enablers’ and are key contributors to leadership and organisational success.
- Own it – Accountability and Responsibility: Being responsible for the business and your team…that’s right, both your employees and organisation can benefit from the arrangement! Be willing to see your contribution to situations – both positive and negative. A frank and honest assessment is sometimes difficult to acknowledge but well worthwhile. Know and believe in your own ability to be decisive and take action accordingly. Be proud of who you are, what you do, be willing to accept the views of others and maintain flexible thinking. The flip-side is arrogance which 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.
- You – Serving others, self-awareness and emotional intelligence: Be honest and upfront in your conversations, even when it is hard…in fact, especially when it is hard. Understand the impact you have on others and learn to pick up on the emotional connections and subtle messages in every interaction. Make it about others. The ability and willingness to put others first is a critical aspect of effective leadership. This is often underestimated and is a trait that truly great leaders possess intuitively.
- Acknowledge and understand your business culture and your team members: both the culture of your broader business and sub-cultures that exist within smaller business units and teams. Through understanding these inner workings, you are most likely to be able to influence and develop trust in your relationships. Different beliefs, motivations, backgrounds and related elements provide the basis for much of who we are and decisions made. Lead and treat others as an individual, which requires you to take the time to get to know them, connect and gain depth in the relationship, understanding the elements that make each person remarkable and unique.
- Reduce Fear: The fear of the unknown; transformation; your own competence; how things will be acknowledged and many other negative, fear-based elements can stop a leader being accountable. The fear of ‘being found out as a fake’ is a recurring theme I hear often see and one that is worth highlighting. Taking action, being honest with yourself and acknowledging the good work being performed are all steps to break the cycle.
- Positive attitude to development and growth: a genuine desire to continue learning and developing, both personally and professionally, in self and others. By developing depth in relationships you will earn the right to challenge and support your team to become even more effective – and they will be more likely to listen and work with you to achieve these goals. Ensure there is a form of measurement against an agreed set of standards and expectations.
It is the responsibility of us as leaders to own our own position. We are obligated to help others. To do this we must first understand ourselves and stay ahead of the curve. Passive acceptance, placid attitudes and similar behaviours no longer cut it in the real world. It is not a coincidence that accountability and action are two of the key baseline elements that enable many of the listed necessities of leadership.
Poor or ineffective leaders are often ignorant to their plight, either deliberately, due to avoidance, fear, a lack of self-awareness or similar beliefs and attitudes.
It is a folly to believe that it is the sole responsibility of the executive or senior leadership team to set and control culture. As is repeatedly expressed in leadership literature, culture is the responsibility of everyone. It is equally wrong to believe that these same senior leadership roles do not have significant interest in and influence over driving culture through their choices, actions and role-modelling. It is often about making the conscious decision to take action to focus on ‘stopping the downward spiral…and shift the momentum upwards’.
Good leaders recognise this in themselves and make change accordingly.
Great leaders know that it is rarely about them…so are compelled to support their team members and ensure their contribution as a leader is beyond the norm.
You are the leader…be accountable and lead!