When leaders are truly accountable, they set the tone of an organization, and they inspire others to do the same. Many of us have personally experienced the difference that just one good (or bad!) leader can make; to a company and, indeed, to our careers.
During my recent podcast episode # 17 of the World Class Leaders Show, I had the pleasure of discussing these topics with Dr. Vince Molinaro. Vince is a strategic leadership advisor and best-selling author (The Leadership Contract). He is the reference founder and CEO of Leadership Contract Inc. Dr. Molinaro offered several valuable insights for my audience.
Leaders Need Development and Support
Companies have spent billions of dollars trying to unlock leadership potential. But at the same time, global research reveals that only 49% of companies do a good job setting clear expectations of leaders. A high-performing employee may be selected for promotion into a leadership role, but they are rarely supported adequately with training and development. Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman recently released research that indicates that, on average, managers may have been supervising people for more than ten years before they receive any leadership development.
This lack of development may be one reason why we have people in leadership roles who don’t even really see themselves as leaders, who never choose to elevate their approach beyond their previous skill-set and comfort zone.
Four Key Elements of a Commitment to Leadership
One of the paradoxes of career progression into leadership is that the skills and capabilities that contribute to the success of an employee may not translate into the skills required of a leader. The highest performing sales person, or the best engineer, may not have the right talents in the moment to be a truly effective leader.
Leadership must be a deliberate decision, and each individual should be prepared and ready to undertake this demanding role. Each significant ‘first’ in a career journey (e.g. first-time middle manager, first-time executive etc.) ratchets up the expectations of leaders. So even though you may have been successful in the past, it’s important to pause and be brutally honest in asking yourself: “What’s expected of me? What will I be asked to do? Am I ready?”
The Obligation of Leadership
Now that the decision is understood, the next step is to get clarity on what your obligation is as a leader. The primary obligation is to leave things better than you found them; this applies to your company and your team. The connection between leadership and accountability is very tight.
When leaders live up to that obligation, we applaud them, but if not, we judge them — sometimes quite harshly.
Leadership is Hard Work
Many leaders fail to fully appreciate that their company has given them the responsibility to deal with the constant stream of challenges, problems and issues that exist in any organization. It’s not about always looking to senior management for permission or guidance; leaders need the resilience and resolve to tackle this hard work.
Leaders are expected to visibly support their company’s policies and business decisions. That means having the courage to tackle difficult issues and make progress that will strengthen ourselves, our teams, and our organizations.
Leadership Requires Community
In simpler times, it was possible for a senior manager to make all the decisions, which were then cascaded down through the company. Today, however, we see a model that is less focused on the individual and more focused on how we create a sense of community and shared accountability among our leaders. Teams must work well together in order to deliver success in important initiatives.
Shared accountability can be challenging; Dr. Molinaro’s research shows that the lowest rating for behaviour, even among industry-leading companies, is on peer-to-peer feedback. If the only way for me to win is that you have to lose, that doesn’t create or sustain any sense of community. Instead, when a sense of community has been established, we all understand that we share a common aspiration to be excellent leaders, and we fundamentally care about one another’s success.
In closing the episode, I asked Vince for his responses to the five core questions I pose to all my guests.
What is the number one thing that you’ve learned in your career?
For me, it’s all about relationships. It’s important to be proactive at building them, maintaining them, repairing them when they get damaged – which they will. You have to care enough about the relationship that you’re prepared to have tough conversations when you need them, in order to make the connection as strong as it can be.
What is one thing you would have done differently in your career?
I would have given people difficult feedback earlier than I did. There were times where, if I knew it would be hard for them to hear, I was probably more tentative and less direct than I needed to be.
When you were performing at a high level, what were the conditions in place that allowed that?
We actually cover that in one of the activities in our programmes; people think about the experiences that help them be at their best, or the worst experiences that may have eroded their value.
My first condition is that I had a manager or leader who let me do what I was there to do. I had freedom, with support at a distance. Secondly, I surrounded myself with the best people I could because ultimately, the result was about the team. The third thing, which was harder, was the necessity to address people that don’t fit.
Sometimes, that’s a tricky aspect of leadership: you can have someone who’s a great individual contributor, but their personality doesn’t fit with the team, doesn’t fit with the culture in place. And you’ve got to be able to make those decisions and changes, for the good of the team and the organization.
Who is the best business leader you’ve come across?
There are two leaders that I respect.
First, in the business sphere, is Satya Nadella at Microsoft and what he’s been able to accomplish in turning the company around from an innovation standpoint.
The second leader, on the political side, would be Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand. Her rapid response to the tragic Christchurch massacre was remarkable, with courage and conviction balanced with compassion and care.
Is there a great book which has shaped your career?
One book that I read last year is “The Hidden Life of Trees”, by Peter Wohlleben. That book introduced me to a whole ecosystem of trees and intelligence that exists. I used my reading to formulate thoughts about how that could be a model for organizations.
Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” was a fantastic piece of work that had a massive impact on me. And “Good to Great” by Jim Collins continues to sell well, which is a testament to a core set of ideas that just make sense.
Listen to the podcast linked to this article: https://www.andreapetrone.com/why-accountability-is-the-secret-of-great-leaders-2/