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Leadership : #MeToo vs Improving Personal Accountability

Personal accountability is a wide and somewhat confusing concept. When it comes to leadership, the best leaders not only embrace personal accountability, but they demand it.

Sadly, the headlines today contain stories about cover-ups and sexual improprieties (that’s me being very nice about it). Celebrities, athletes, politicians, key executives, and others are being “found out”. Those who are reported allegedly engaged in bad acts that included theft, fraud, sexual abuses, and collusion, just to name a few.

The #MeToo movement is not limited to the entertainment world. It reaches the boardrooms and back rooms of many of our best respected corporate brands. [Writer’s note: in case you are wondering, the #MeToo movement hit Twitter after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke. People who had been sexually assaulted were encouraged to tweet simply #MeToo.].

It seems that the old saying is still true:

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

People in power take license with the authority that comes with their position. When the power is abused as in lording it over those with whom you work, whether for sexual favor or financial twisting, it is still wrong. So what is the remedy, the fix?

Personal Accountability

Large corporations and many smaller businesses have built-in accountabilities for things like accounting, finance, compliance, and other regulatory mandates. Yet the integrity of the leadership is left somewhat unchecked. Yes, there are Boards who write morality clauses into employment contracts. People are fired for violation of those clauses. Great for the Board who demanded that control. Unfortunately, the presence of these controls is seen in only a few cases.

When there is a contractual clause, there is accountability of a statutory nature. The person subject to such control may or may not be very influenced by its presence. If the leader’s tendency is to conduct bad acts, they will figure out ways to do it in secret. The secret only lasts so long.

Accountability must begin in the heart. A moral compass must be engaged that prevents any such bad act. The best leader has long ago figured out what, when and how to establish their own personal system of accountability.

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune of knowing a group of business leaders who started very young making pledges to one another for accountability. They met regularly and shared the temptations they faced. If one member was slipping, the group lifted them up (figuratively). They routinely reaffirmed the pledge for proper conduct. The discipline grew. As they rose in prominence in their respective professions, the habits for accountability became the foundation of integrity. To this day these leaders enjoy reputations for good character and high standards of integrity.

Accountable

I argue this came from a discipline adopted at that early stage of their career. They made decisions long ago about the right ways to act.

Fighting the Beast

The coin here definitely has two sides; at least if you try to be objective. As I began preparing this article, I spoke with several close confidants. Even within this small sampling, the extremes on the scale revealed thoughts I had never considered.

One executive, a male, expressed total frustration with the dynamic. While he couldn’t deny the presence of a small percentage of male managers with horrible reputations for sexual harassment, he was equally appalled by the presence of females who cry foul without a real threat.

My friend contends, at a minimum, the line gets blurry. What action at work, physical or verbal, can be construed to be harmful? What about the office dating that has led to marriages that work. Yes, many do not, but plenty do. In the story above, my friend, a life-long HR professional said that he’s even heard complaints about “Susie, you look nice today.” Where is the line?

Managers have been sunk by false allegations of impropriety, careers ruined, yet there was no recourse. The consensus was, trust the female’s complaint. My friend’s summary statement was “there are some crazy people out there.”

On the other extreme, a female entrepreneur I know just happened to be writing her own story about the #MeToo movement. In her version she states yes, she’s been the ‘victim’ of actions that could be taken as sexually explicit, but she admits never being forced into being violated. While she’s had her own experience with men making statements and doing things like reaching and groping, she calls it a blessing to have never had to experience what many other women are now revealing.

While acknowledging this smaller segment of bad actors, she chooses to stake a claim on the men who have been mentors, champions, coaches, and supporters of her career. She says the ‘good guy’ population is much larger (thankfully). She even goes so far as to say we should add a #WeToo alternative to the #MeToo campaign. i.e. for every woman who has felt threatened, there are probably two or more who have been encouraged and helped by male influence.

[callout]If you need help building your own system for personal accountability, consider joining a Mastermind group like those we host at HeadwayExec.[/callout]

In the end

It all comes back to moral character or decay. Which direction are you heading? If you are a leader (male or female) have you established your own moral high ground from which you choose to operate? In small entrepreneurial shops, you may get away with being a hugging kind of person, but larger corporate settings may not allow such behavior. Regardless, the boundaries have to be set.

Boundary setting is not just for your employees to protect themselves from you, but boundaries you choose never to cross. As an example, I know one male leader who will not permit private, one-on-one meetings with female staffers. It doesn’t matter how long the employee has been there, if a woman wants to meet with him, there will be another party in the room. That may be extreme, but I can tell you it has earned him a high degree of respect. People don’t even try to share an off-color story with him. He wants a straight narrow line shining brightly in his organization. His people respect that and want to work there.

Do they have fun? Yes, they do. It’s the kind of fun everyone can enjoy. The business thrives.

[reminder]What have you done to establish accountability and raise your own standards for office behavior?[/reminder]

 

 

 

F-5 Framework for Leadership

Purple Unicorn courtesy BigThumbnail

Ever seen any purple unicorns? Pretty rare sightings, right? When we talk about leadership, often it seems like we are talking about something as vague and unique as purple unicorns. Leadership is in the eye of the beholder. Leadership is something you are born with. Leadership is a skill that can be taught. Leadership is the final answer. All of these are true and none of these are true.

Purple Unicorn courtesy BigThumbnail
Purple Unicorn courtesy BigThumbnail

For anyone facing a need to improve on leadership style or effectiveness, there are five core principles to master. Not 10, not 16, not 21. Yes, you can get granular, but as you first begin your journey to grow as a leader, stay centered on these five. I call this program the F-5 Framework for Leadership(TM).

  • Foundation
  • Fundamentals
  • Future Vision
  • Focus
  • Forward Motion

Let’s unpack each one.

Foundation

You have to begin somewhere. You cannot give what you don’t have. As a leader, you must establish your own foundation. The pilings must be driven deep in the ground underneath you until you reach a bedrock of guiding principles and disciplines.

These principles may have been instilled in you as a child. They might be faith based. Whatever values you bring to the moment will be tested. You must engage a full and deep understanding of who you are and what you want to be, so that you can withstand the test of trials as a leader. You will be needing to return to this foundation often.

Disciplines can be learned and sharpened to add to your foundation. Just like structures are girded for extra strength, so too can be your foundation. As challenges come to you, and they will, you must be able to stand firm on this foundation. It cannot waiver or sway. The foundation from which you operate will establish your reputation as a leader.

The foundation sets the tone for your overall leadership effectiveness. If the foundation is strong, you can take on more and greater responsibility. Your success will come.

Fundamentals

Here you add to the leadership toolkit. The Fundamentals are the attributes and skills that cover management requirements.

Management is about controlling quality, time, and money. You have to develop some mastery of being able to do that. Managers are not necessarily good leaders, but good leaders are good managers.

Fundamentals include your people skills; communication, delegation, direction, supervision, motivation, and performance. There may be technical fundamentals you bring to the table; a knowledge of subject matter. However, in the later stages of very senior management, the technical skills become less important. Instead the core principles of being an effective leader take on the greater value.

The best leaders I have known draw on their fundamentals, almost as a source of strength, from which they can prosper. Your proven experience in key areas will also be the source of some great stories you can share with an audience. Story telling is widely known as a secret weapon of effective leaders.

Future Vision

FURTURE VISION
FUTURE VISION

We say leaders are visionary or at least we admire “visionary leaders”. That is not a euphemism. It has merit. John Maxwell says that in every culture without regard for gender or age, the people identified as Leaders have these two traits:

[shareable cite=”John Maxwell”]They see more than the people around them and they see things before the people around them.[/shareable]

That is vision. You have to commit to perpetual growth as a leader in order to sustain the ability to see more and see before. Allowing yourself the opportunity to grow through coaching, reading, being mentored, or studying your leadership craft is the way to maintain this unique ability to have vision.

In today’s world we relate to the stories of Steve Jobs and his incredible vision to change the world through user interfaces with technology. He didn’t want to build hardware. He wanted hardware to be a tool for enhanced user connection to the world around them. That was vision.

Focus

Leaders maintain focus. As the world around them erupts with change and circumstance, the leader must stay focused on the destination that has been mapped. Yes, the course may take many turns.

FOCUS
FOCUS

I live near Houston. I can get to New York many ways. Yet if I intend to go to New York, I have to stay focused on that destination. The plane that was part of my original travel plan might get grounded, but if I want to be in New York, I have to find alternate ways to get there; train, bus, or car. I might even bike or walk part way, but I will get to New York nonetheless.

That’s an oversimplified example, but the principle is clear. Stay focused on the destination. The best leaders know the outcome they want to achieve. Stephen Covey called it “begin with the end in mind”. That’s a perfect summation of this point. Focus on the end game, then as the work begins, you can adjust your tactical execution to stay on course for achieving the goal.

Forward Motion

Last but not least, forward motion is required. Leadership is about bringing people along to achieve the goal. You don’t push people. Rather you bring them along. Just like the chain General Dwight Eisenhower used to test his subordinate commanders. If you push on the pile, you cannot predict where it will go. You must pull it with you toward the direction you intend. The direction of forward motion should be about your vision and your focus.

Forward motion includes teaching and training of your team or your staff. They need to grow under your leadership too. The real test of the influence of a leader is not what you accomplish, but what the other people who have followed you achieve. Their lives must demonstrate the positive impact of having served under your guidance. Are they different, in a good way, for having served with you? Or did you simply complete a project or reach a goal and there is no measurable result after all that?

Purple Unicorns?

No, understanding leadership is not about chasing purple unicorns. There are these five areas that, once mastered, can help you become a better leader. Let me repeat, Leadership requires growth. That is part of your forward motion. Commit to grow where you already are. Revisit each of these five areas to strengthen your effectiveness as a leader.

Regardless of which authors or speakers you follow on the topic of leadership development, I am certain you can plug each of their teachings into one or more of these five areas. I like to keep things simple. Think of F-5 Framework for Leadership(TM) as you embark on leadership growth.

[reminder]Let me know the ways you have tried growing your own leadership effectiveness.[/reminder]

The Biggest Struggle Managing People

Recently I was asked this question: What has been your biggest struggle managing people and how did you over come it?

Hands down, the biggest struggle has always been managing up the organization. I believe that managing my own team (those who report to me directly or indirectly) could always be influenced i.e. I had some control. Ah, but managing those above me, not so much.

Courtesy 123rf.com/ konstantynov
Courtesy 123rf.com/ konstantynov

Senior execs above me in the organization were always the bigger challenge. I’ve had my fair share of superiors who needed to be lead thru everything. Fortunately, I had a far greater share of great leaders from whom I could learn.

I’m Not Ok You’re Not OK

To give you some examples, I once had a boss who would never rate any of his people higher than he had been rated by his boss. Since he was not especially effective, the higher-ups often rated him modestly, if not poorly. Guess what? So went the ratings for me and my peers. Unbelievable, but a situation I endured for several cycles.

The first time it happened, I was stunned and attempted to have the ratings re-written (I knew for sure my contributions to the organization during that period had saved expenses, increased revenue, and reduced turnover; a kind of management trifecta). But my most stringent effort for reconsideration and re-evaluation fell on deaf ears.

The next cycle the pattern emerged. My peers and I banded together, but again, got no resolution. Finally, the guy got shipped out to another department and location. Yeah!

The Emperor Has No Clothes

In another instance, I had a very senior executive to whom I reported that would not accept any bad news whatsoever. It didn’t matter how brilliant my plan to fix the problem might have been, if anything was going wrong, this person just simply didn’t want to hear it. I soon figured out the chief reason for this behavior was fundamental fear of failure. I wasn’t afraid, they were.

My solution was to proceed to fix things my way, getting whatever buy-in I needed from as many stakeholders as possible without ever tipping my hand to the big boss. This normally would never be my go-to way of doing things, but, under this scenario, it worked. It was far easier to take the proverbial bull by the horns and fix a problem rather than fight the battle to tell the boss.

Source: Pressmaster/Shutterstock
Source: Pressmaster/Shutterstock

There Are Ways to Manage Up

Here are several key ways I have found to be successful in trying to manage up the organization.

1. Never have a problem without a solution –  The person to whom you report doesn’t need more problems. They need results. It increases the higher up the organization you go. Taking a problem to your boss without having a recommendation for the fix, is a bad idea. After all, if you can’t fix things, why do they need you?

As soon as you recognize that something is going wrong, create the solution. Get answers. Build a strategy to implement the fix. Then you can report the problem along with the proposed solution.

Unlike my one story above, most senior managers do want to know when things are sliding. They will appreciate your initiative to have a recommendation rather than merely dumping the problem at their feet.

2. Do for them what you would want done to you –  OK none of us are qualified mind readers. Sometimes you have to guess at what the boss wants. The place to start is with your own value structure. What would you expect to be done in a particular situation?

Craft any ideas or solutions around your own expectations first. Once you present those to management, you can begin to adjust based on their response.

The upside for doing it this way allows you to stay true to yourself. If the boss likes it, bang! You are aligning in a good way. If they don’t like it, then you can easily adjust your approach and deliverables using your own value structure as the baseline.

Yes, sometimes you will learn that things will never align. That’s when it is time to dust off the resume and start looking for another job.

[callout]For more ways to enhance your leadership effectiveness, check out my new book
The Uncommon Commodity: The Common Sense Guide for New Managers“.[/callout]

3. Drive better communication – If you are sensing that you cannot understand what the boss above you wants, ask for clarity. I do not recommend asking in a needy sort of way. Rather I suggest using phrase structure like “this is what I am hearing, does that align with what you meant?” Give them feedback that covers the key elements of whatever assignment or expectation is in scope right then.

Work to gain clarity, even if it means offering a written summary for the boss to check off on before you go the wrong way.

4. Create your own tracking system –  Maintain control of your accomplishments and contributions to the work effort. A colleague of mine, Roger Ferguson, created a system he calls the “Big 5”. It’s ingenious yet so powerful. It simply involves writing out your top 5 accomplishments for the prior month. Add to that 5 goals for the new month. If you want, add a third section of 5 areas for growth and improvement.

Prepare this Big 5 report before the 5th  of each new month. Give a copy to your boss. It should be on one page. Ask for their feedback. This is a superior way for you and the boss to get on the same page (no pun intended).

Every time I have explained this to a coaching client, the feedback I get is stunning. Bosses that could never focus can now do it with ease. Communication syncs up and progress is made.

I might add that the other benefit of doing this is that at the end of your review period, you will have a library of meaningful information to share during the review process.

Conclusion

Managing up the organization is a tough task. Using these few ideas can make the climb much easier.

Copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

 

5 Strategies to Make Employees More Productive and Engaged

This is a recent post by a good friend and fellow coach, Mike Lejeune. Mike is a senior HR professional who has coached and mentored hundreds of key officers across a wide variety of industries. He hosts his own blog called “Simple Leadership“. Here is his post.

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