Last week I was with two executives from the same company discussing an issue they were having. One (Joe) was feeling overrun and overworked. The other (Mike) agreed and was concerned about it.
The discussion continued and I asked for a specific example of what was happening.
As the example unfolded it became apparent the "Tail was wagging the Dog"!
Once both Joe and Mike realized what was happening, the discussion changed dramatically.
Mike asked, "How could this be happening? I've been trying to be a good leader and very deliberate in my delegation. What do we need to do differently?"....
Both Mike and Joe had been very deliberate in how they delegated any project or task. They took into consideration the person's behavior profile, their strengths and challenges, planned their approach and got specific feedback indicating the employee fully understood the expectations. Great stuff, right out of Management 101.
"So what happens as the project progresses?" was my next question.
They were both quiet and then Joe says, "That's the problem, the project does not get done and it becomes mine and Mike's problem. That's the frustrating thing that is taking up all our time!"
"Woooo! Who is the boss here?" I exclaimed. "Why are you cheating your people this way?"
"What do you mean?" they asked in unison.
"How do you suppose the employee views today's project if he is never held accountable for his past delays and shortcomings?" was my question.
"Well, we reinforce the idea and behavior that it's alright to not get it done. The previous culture was "Tell & Chew" only without the "Chew"." stated Mike. "I guess that responsibility to direct the culture falls on me as President."
"Ok, we've isolated a problem here, where else does this rear its head?" I quickly asked.
Joe piped in quickly, "At our executive group level. We discuss issues, create plans, assign them to one or two executives and it never seems to get done!"
"Alright, you and the executive team are good people, intelligent and growth oriented. Everyone seems to want a different culture and growth for the company. Why do you feel this is happening to such a strong dedicated group?" was my inquiry.
Mike responded, "Personally I have been trying to change the culture to one of support and open communications. Every time I interact I'm trying to consider the other person and how they need to be communicated to and what's important to them. I want their input and willingness to speak their mind. It seems I'm reluctant to come down on them or police them for fear it will close them off. I'm trying to get them to make their own decisions so they can take on more responsibility and grow the business. But I'm not sure it's working the way I want."
Joe also responded, "I've been the same, very aware of how I'm communicating and trying not to put up walls or barriers to my team. What can we do different?"
My response was, "First of all let's look at accountability from a different view. If I delegate a project to you and it's accepted; do you expect to be successful and what will that success do for you?"
"Well build my confidence and ego so I'm ready for the next project! Its how I would grow as a person and key employee." Mike responded.
"Ditto!" says Joe.
"So I allow you to not get the project done, I allow you to fail at success. How have I now cheated you?" I asked.
"Dang it Harlan, you're right. We are cheating them out of just what we want for them. That personal growth, the ability to take charge and be more valuable! We have to change our view on accountability from a police or chew action to a growth action, one that is in their favor. We as leaders are obligated to hold them accountable so they can grow! It's not all the employee's fault; it may be mostly our fault for not holding them accountable. Have we been creating a culture that holds us back rather than moves us forward?" Mike responded.
"I'm going to say yes to that Mike. If you are not holding the executive team accountable, what effect does that have on how they work with their teams? How can a culture of self directed people occur if the team members continually see a "pass the buck" behavior from their leaders? And here is another issue to consider, if the Sales Manger is not holding the salespeople accountable, are they going to hold the customers accountable?" I responded.
"What I'm getting from this conversation is we need to make positive accountability a priority and view it as cheating the employee if we don't." was Mike's comment.
"This is going to be a challenge for me and for the rest of the executive team. It has not been the culture in the past, yet I see where it has to be a core element in our future culture." Piped in Joe.
This is an abbreviated recap of a 90 minute conversation with Mike and Joe. Now they are working on the changes they need to make. Yes we need to be aware of others, their views, their abilities and how they act and react to our delegation. But when the sun goes down, someone still has to be in charge and hold others accountable for their commitments. This is how others grow. I had almost the same conversation yesterday with the owner of a family business trying to develop their son to take over the business. Accountability has been a real challenge for them and their son is not anywhere close to ready yet!
Hopefully this gives you some insight into how a well meaning leader can still end up cheating the people they lead!