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Holding Others Accountable Starts With the Leader
Inevitably, a team member will underperform or fail at a given task or project. Holding that team member accountable for improvement is what leaders are required to do.
But before they hold others accountable, the best leaders spend the time to discern exactly why failure occurred in the first place. The answer is often more complex than is first assumed. And it involves the leader.
There are a host of reasons why a team member might fail at a task or project. Let’s consider a short list: They may lack the skills to perform. They may be too distracted by other tasks to succeed. They may lack the experience to perform. They may be missing the knowledge necessary to succeed. They may lack the self-discipline important for completion. They may hold a different standard and think they have performed well. They may not have the commitment to perform. They may not know what was expected of them.
As you can imagine after reading that abbreviated list, what a leader does to encourage future improvement varies widely depending on the reasons for the poor performance. Funny enough, holding others accountable normally starts with the leader. Leaders typically have some real work to do when team members underperform.
Leaders, by definition, are obligated to set the standards, clarify expectations, set priorities, and give team members the skills and experience to succeed. In most cases, holding others accountable falls to the leader first, not the team member. Above all else, great leaders are teachers and they prepare people to succeed.
On those occasions when a leader concludes that failure has occurred due to a lack of self-discipline or commitment, they are confronted with a grossly different challenge. In those cases, it is clearly not about them. Explaining this conclusion and asking what the team member is going to do about it is usually a strong move.
Unfortunately, holding others accountable for attitude, commitment, or self-discipline is usually a losing proposition. While some people need a kick in the butt to reinvigorate themselves, leaders shouldn’t commit their energy to people who aren’t committed to improving themselves.
In most other cases, however, it is the leader who is most accountable for poor performance.
Good leaders don’t weaponize accountability for failure by simply demanding better performance. They understand the critical role they play in helping team members to succeed. They ask themselves why team members are failing and then look in the mirror for solutions. The reflection of both the cause and the solution starts in that mirror.