Balancing Accountability With Caring

Any parent who has ever said no to a child understands that leadership is not about being popular. You have to be secure within yourself to do the right thing – for the benefit of the greater whole. A recent consulting project reminded me of this. A CEO was brought in to a failing company eighteen months previously to bring it out of the red and make it profitable. The former CEO was known throughout the organization as “Mr. Popular.” Everyone loved him. He was their “buddy.” Expense cheques were freely approved. There was no such thing as budgets. And, like the inattentive captain of the Costa Concordia, he was driving the company into the rocks of bankruptcy. While all the partying and love fest was going on, most of his employees had no idea where he was taking them. Thankfully the board caught it and dismissed him before disaster struck.

The new CEO, a brilliant, accountable, focused leader had to be “less than warm” in her approach to turning the company around. Many of her employees did not understand where she was coming from, and perceived her as cold, distant, and uncaring compared her to her predecessor. Like a courageous parent committed to accountability, I heard her say to her employees, in no uncertain terms, “Trust me. This is for the good of this company and the employees – in the long run.”

Now that the company has turned the corner through her leadership, it is obvious that many of these employees would not even be employed today under the former “popular” regime. Yet for sometime, the new CEO has been perceived by some of her direct reports and managers as “unapproachable,” “disconnected,” and “removed from her people.” They had no idea that, by saving the organization and the employees’ jobs along with it, she was actually very caring.

How do you become respected and liked and still hold others accountable? This is a question that every leader must grapple with. It is also a question that has application for every employee. Here are seven points to consider as you wrestle with this question:

  1. Being a leader is not for people who need to be liked or need to be popular. At times, you have to be willing to stand alone with the courage of your convictions.
  2. Even though you don’t need to be liked as a leader, if you aren’t liked by at least most of your people – you’ll have difficulty making impact in the long term.
  3. As an employee, some things are not as they appear. Few bosses come to work with a motive to mess up the place. While there certainly may be poor leadership at times, unless you are a psychopath, all behavior comes from a positive intent. Before judging, take time to discover the underlying motive of your boss’s behavior and be patient.
  4. Because leadership is a presence, not a position, everyone in an organization is a potential leader. You can be a leader today by deciding to be what you expect from others. If you want more compassion from others, start by being more compassionate to
  5. Leadership is ultimately about caring, but you can’t always count on it appearing as such. When you are fostering accountability by holding the line on a principle, you may come across as anything but compassionate. Accountable people accept this.
  6. You must be driven by a motive of caring even when you are holding others accountable – caring about people, caring about your work, and caring about the organization as a whole. While caring and accountability won’t always be in balance, you need to know when it’s out of balance and how to get it back.
  7. You don’t become liked by pleasing people and giving them what they want. That’s merely a fix that passes with the tides of popularity. You get to be liked by letting go of your need to be liked, serving people by being committed to giving them what they need, earning respect from living in alignment to your principles, and then by being humble and authentic.

 

Now that this CEO has begun to turn the company around, she’s concentrating on turning her relationship with her employees around. In order to accomplish what she did, she needed to be tough, and while her resolve remains firm, she can turn her attention to connecting with others and showing her caring side. She’s working at being vulnerable by communicating her intentions and exposing a little more of her humanness, both of which are vital to connecting with others. She’s reminding herself to be more kind and approachable, and lightening up a bit. As a result, people are actually starting to like her, and in the process, she is earning the trust and respect of her key people.

Mentor Leaders – Lessons From School Teachers

I always love working with teachers. Like every profession, there are good teachers and bad teachers, but I have learned a lot over the years about leadership from having teachers in my leadership development programs. In Oprah’s final show, she introduced and praised her grade four teacher, an early “liberator” who made her feel valued. Think about your own teachers. There are those who just meet the curriculum requirements and help you get into the next grade, while others inspire you, build your character, and mentor you to be a better person, not just a better student. And think about the bosses you’ve had. Some merely help you get your work done, some get in your way, but some change your life. Some help you be a better employee, while others help you be a better person.

How is it that some teachers are merely teachers, but others are leaders, mentors, and life-changers? And how is it that some bosses are merely bosses, while others influence and build your moral fiber, model and teach new attitudes and behaviors, and create a constructive legacy for future generations? It is this distinction that makes a “mentor leader.”

While there are many leadership practices that amplify one’s impact on others, “mentor leaders” possess three qualities of leadership that exemplify their presence:

1) Leaders who make a difference are authentic. They are human, and humble, and present. They also aren’t perfect or attempt to create an illusion of perfection. To impact others, you can’t be phony. People will see right through it. By being who they are, they create a space where others are inspired to also be authentic. Authentic people love what they do and are open to learning about themselves. They are inspired by a purpose and a passion and as a result, they inspire others.

2) Leaders who make a difference are accountable. They can be counted on and don’t make promises they aren’t prepared to keep. They create a place where blame is viewed as a waste of time. They have high standards, both for themselves and those around them. It’s inspiring to be around people you can count on. You aren’t a leader until someone says you are, and you won’t earn the credibility to influence and be trusted if people can’t count on you.

3) Leaders who make a difference care. They care about their work and they care about the people around them. They understand that leading is largely a matter of caring about people, not manipulating or controlling them. Leaders who care measure their success by the trust they build and the value they bring to the lives of others. They are committed to serve. Mentor leaders know that their work is a means to a higher end and put people above products and processes. It’s about changing lives.

Great leadership goes well beyond merely “getting the job done,” and cannot be reduced to technique or position or power. Great leadership inspires others and comes from the strength of one’s identity and integrity – their presence. When teachers possess this presence and inspire it in their students, we are truly fortunate to have them in our lives. The same goes for the leaders in our life and in our work who can help us reach unimaginable potential.

Employee Engagement Surveys – Not The Whole Story

I’m not against employee engagement surveys. I’m just not in favor or our over-reliance on them for an accurate picture of an organizational culture. Reading employee engagement surveys is like reading a newspaper or watching the news. It’s interesting, there’s an element of truth in them, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s more of a photograph, a small spectrum of what’s actually happening. Surveys turn your organization into a noun, while conversations make culture a verb, a living breathing entity. Surveys give you a sense of what’s going on, but you always have to go further if you want an accurate picture. Here are some suggestions for using surveys more effectively and appropriately:

  1. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership. While thorough surveys provide excellent data and get you started with a snapshot of your culture, don’t rely on surveys alone to do the job. You also have to get out of your office, wander around, and be in touch with people. Ask them how they’re doing and what they need. Then listen to what they say. If you use the excuse that “people aren’t honest with you when you do that,” that’s a good indication you haven’t been out of your office enough to build trust. To be committed to culture, leaders need to be out of their office about half of the time or they just aren’t leading.
  2. Shorten your surveys. People are getting surveyed out. I’ve seen employees answer low because they are angry about having to do so many surveys! Dr. Theresa M. Welbourne (www.eepulse.com) is designing employee engagement and 360 Feedback surveys that take three minutes to complete. Dr. Welborne believes that you can get pretty much all the information you need in about three minutes. She might just be on to something.
  3. You don’t have to survey everyone to get an accurate picture. Television ratings are not determined by calling every single person watching TV. Pick a good cross section of people to survey and give the rest a break. Switch it up so you aren’t surveying the same people every time.
  4. Don’t mistake climate for culture. Climate is how people feel about the organization and their work (what you get from an employee engagement survey). Culture is what causes them to feel that way. Employee engagement surveys may tell you what the climate is, but they don’t necessarily get to the culture. Every culture has both the “visible” culture and the “real” culture. The real culture is what people talk about when the boss isn’t there. If you want to find out about the real culture, don’t send surveys to your employees. Send surveys to your employees’ spouses or best friends. Culture is measured by what people talk about when they get home from work. Ideally, we want to build a level of trust so people would have the same conversation whether the boss is there on not. You can only get the real culture by getting into the cafeteria and the hallways and listening to what’s going on, and more importantly, why it’s going on.
  5. Never ask a question about something you don’t know how to fix and you aren’t prepared to fix. Every survey question implies a promise that you are going to take action based on the answers you get. And if you break that promise, things will get ugly. I like Mark Murphy’s (Leadership IQ) experiment as an example of how this works. Tonight at home, make some popcorn. Then ask your spouse if they want some and when they say “yes” just ignore them. Now multiply that by a few thousand and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership accountabilities. You must live your values, and have a way to ensure that this happens at every level of your organization. Your actions as leaders define your culture more than your value statements do. Actions really do speak louder than words. The goal is to align your actions and your value statements. The more you connect with people and really listen to what they say in a variety of ways, the greater your chances of bringing your claim and your reality into alignment.
  6. Remember that culture is a shared responsibility. Culture isn’t something that you do for or to people. Culture is something you create together. We institutionally deny the fact that each of us – through our perceptions and our choices – is actually creating the culture that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that I have co-created the world around me – and therefore I am the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. Check out my website www.irvinestone.ca/assessments for an instrument that assesses both the manager’s and the employee’s responsibility for creating a workplace worth working in – using and adapting the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey.

Personal Leadership – A Culture of One

Operational accountabilities are about what has to be done in an organization. Leadership accountabilities, on the other hand, are about how the work gets done. You have to take both into consideration if you want to build a great culture. Culture defines the how.

It is important to regularly assess how your people are achieving operational results, and it is just as important to regularly assess your culture with a Culture Inventory:

  • Are people clear about the values that are espoused – the way we do the work?
  • Are there clearly defined behaviors attached to each of the values so that the expectations of the how are explicit?
  • Are there clearly defined promises between the manager and the employee about what both are agreeing to?
  • Are there clearly defined support agreements, so everyone feels supported?
  • Are there clearly defined consequences – both positive and negative?
  • Is the follow-through clear, so that the agreements remain current and remain useful?

Just as it is good for a regular Culture Inventory, is it important to take a Character Inventory – an assessment of our own personal way we are at work and in the world. Similar to how an organization has a culture – a way of doing things, individuals also have a way.

Much emphasis in organizations is put on the what, and this is true with individuals as well. How many people do you know emphasize the achievements in their life but don’t pay attention to the kind of person they are becoming in the pursuit of these achievements? A Character Inventory assesses the kind of person you are – how you are living your life.

If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have or what you can do, but for who you can be. A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.

It’s an act of caring to pause every so often and take an inventory of your character.

  • How are you doing in areas such as compassion, reliability, honesty, courage, prudence, contribution, and maturity?
  • Are you one person in public and another in private?
  • Do you focus as much on what kind of a person you are in the world as much as on what you want to achieve in the world?

Like a business that takes regular stock of its inventory, this is a fact-finding process. There can be blind spots to seeing yourself, so get feedback from the most important people in your life. Being a good person precedes being a good leader in any capacity.

Here’s a list of actions that demonstrate strength of character. See how you measure up with this list, or take the time to write your own list:

Let go of what you want.

Prudence is the common sense – that unfortunately is not so common any more – to live with what you can do without, and the ability to find joy in what is here. Every so often it’s good to surrender something we want, but don’t need. In a world that confuses wants with needs, debt continues to rise as character continues to erode. Practice living below your means, not getting everything you want, and finding freedom in enjoying what you have.

Do something difficult every day.

“Do the hard stuff first,” my mother used to say. The earlier in the day you get the difficult work done, the better you’ll feel about yourself and the rest of your day will improve. Whether it’s having a difficult conversation, getting some exercise, or taking a risk, character is built on the foundation of overcoming the natural tendency to take the course of least resistance.

Clean up after yourself.

Something eats away at your character when you sit in your mess or leave your messes for someone else to look after. And if you really want to experience character, walk through a park close to where you live and clean up garbage left behind by someone else.

Look beyond yourself.

Character means choosing service over self-interest. Character grows in the soil of concern for others and the commitment to act on that concern. We can all find ways to make life better for someone less fortunate than ourselves.

Spend less than you earn.

This is truly one of the best character habits you can develop. Spending less than you earn, whether it’s reflected in your home, your car, or the stuff you buy, is another version of prudence. The space you create in your life by doing so will give you freedom, renewed worth, and contentment that money will never buy.

Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is integral to strong character. It’s the antidote to the entitlement that contaminates character. Be an appreciator, rather than a depreciator, of everything that shows up in your life, including opportunities disguised as problems. What you appreciate, appreciates.

Before you criticize the culture you work in or the leaders of the culture, take a good look in the mirror. Leadership is about PRESENCE, not position. What kind of presence do you bring to your work? What kind of person are you? What is your “way” of being in the world? As a personal leader, you are a culture of one. Make it a daily practice to review your character in relation to your daily life, your friends, your acquaintances, and your work. Keep striving to be a better leader by being a better person. This is the real satisfaction and ultimate goal in life.

Q12 Engagement Survey: Who is Responsible?

The Q12 Talent Engagement Audit

The Gallup Q12 (https://q12.gallup.com) is a survey designed to measure employee engagement. The instrument was the result of hundreds of focus groups and interviews. Researchers found that there were 12 key expectations that when satisfied, form the foundation of strong feelings of engagement. So far more than 90,000 work units and 1.7+ million employees have participated in the Q12 instrument.

Comparisons of engagement scores reveal that those with high Q12 scores exhibit lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.

The Gallup organization also uses the Q12 as a semi-annual employee engagement Index – a random sampling of employees across the country.

The engagement index slots people into one of three categories:

  • Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their organization and their work.
  • Not-Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They are sleepwalking through their workday. They are putting in time, but not enough energy or passion into their work (“Quit and stay”).
  • Destructively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.

The Q12 Index

  • Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  • At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  • At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  • Does the mission/purpose of your organization make you feel your job is important?
  • Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

The limitation of the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey (https://q12.gallup.com) is that it only measures half of the equation: the manager’s responsibility to build an engaging relationship with their employees and to foster an engaging workplace culture. The Q12 Talent Engagement Audit below, adapted from Gallup’s Q12, measures the employee’s responsibility to build an engaging organizational culture.

Take an honest inventory of yourself in the following areas to assess your level of personal responsibility and commitment to do your part as an employee to build a workplace culture that is worth working in.

  • Have you clarified with your boss what is expected?
  • Have you clearly and respectfully asked for the resources you need to do your work right?
  • At work, have you created the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you given recognition or praise to your colleagues for doing good work? How about to yourself?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, know that you care about them as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who you encourage in their development?
  • Have you earned the credibility so that your opinions seem to count?
  • Does your own personal purpose make you feel your job is important?
  • Are you committed to doing quality work?
  • Have you taken the time to create a good friendship at work?
  • In the last six months, have you taken the responsibility to talk with your boss about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had created opportunities to learn and grow?

What do you need to continue doing to sustain your commitment to 100% responsibility for the culture you work in?

What do you need to start doing to take more responsibility for the culture you work in?

What support do you need? Who will help hold you accountable?

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The First Condition Of Employee Engagement: Engagement

My teenage daughters have been, by far, my best teachers in understanding engagement. When I’ve been traveling for an extended time and disconnected from them, my tendency is to come home and see all the things they aren’t doing to help around the house. When I’m tired and detached from them I’ll notice how they haven’t been keeping their rooms clean enough, their chores haven’t been done adequately, and their responsibilities have been neglected. Then I’ll proceed to lecture them and willfully try to “engage” the “disengaged.” This type of approach, or management by pressure, is what Ken Blanchard used to call “seagull management,” which means you ignore people and then you fly around and crap on them. The obvious result of this line of attack is resistance, disengagement, and power struggles.

What my kids continue to teach me is that if you want engagement, you first of all have to be engaged. Paradoxically, commitment and accountability for results is correlated with the time you spend with your kids when you aren’t expecting anything, when you are just hanging around, listening and hearing their concerns and desires. Before you can engage people you have to be engaged with them. Connection – or reconnection if you have been detached – is a prerequisite to engagement. So often I see executives in their corporate offices sending out employee engagement surveys to people they don’t even know and then wondering why people say they are disengaged. Sole reliance on employee engagement surveys to assess whether your employees are engaged is an indication of disengagement!