In order to get the best results out of your employees, you will need to have some difficult conversations. Whether it be putting an employee on a disciplinary plan or taking accountability for your own mistakes, these conversations lead to better future outcomes. That’s why we’re exploring the different characteristics of effective leaders and how they take accountability for their team members and their results. Let’s take a look at why leadership accountability is so important and the leadership characteristics you need to become a truly great leader.
What is Leadership Accountability?
Above all else, leadership accountability is a two-way street. First, leaders must realize, by virtue of their position, that they are accountable to the company that employs them. They are being paid, more importantly, entrusted to fully embody the vision, mission, values, and brand of the organization.
Simultaneously, they are accountable to the people with whom they are charged to lead. They must know their people, understand what motivates them, know how to capitalize on their strengths, and identify and develop their shortcomings. This is all while keeping the end goal in mind and working toward achieving it. Leaders do this through clearly communicating goals and tasks, actively listening to their employees and, taking appropriate measures to mitigate inefficiencies, delegating work. Finally, leaders need to be willing to address potentially challenging situations early to get the team back on track quickly.
Why is Leadership Accountability Important?
Trust erodes when leaders are not accountable to the organization and its people. And, because trust is the foundation upon which everything a company aspires to build is laid, once the process of erosion begins, it is nearly impossible to correct without a massive, highly visible, and costly overhaul. This overhaul is not unlike lifting a house up by its framework. Most organizations simply do not have the time, nor the unlimited resources, to take on such a huge investment in the reestablishment of trust. The better solution, and, frankly, the right answer, is for leaders to foster a culture of leadership accountability and maintain it. This includes top-level C-suite executives, all the way down to the most direct team leaders.
What Are Some Characteristics of Effective Leaders?
American entrepreneur, author, and speaker Jim Rohn said, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” While getting clarification on organizational strategy and goals and articulating them to the team is an expenditure of time and energy, it is not hard unless we do not do it. Putting in the work to create clear objectives and openly communicating those objectives to the team in a timely manner is one-way leaders remain accountable to the organization and its people.
Another characteristic of effective leaders is taking the time to listen to the ideas and concerns of the people actually doing the work. Resource and training shortages cannot be rectified if there is not an opportunity for those experiencing the effects to express their experience and help create solutions. Most of us know by now that active listening is listening to learn and understand, not just to provide a response. This is true, and, in the case of leaders, this learning is demonstrated in the creation of systems of accountability that ensure future workflow stays on track.
Leaders are accountable for getting the job done on time, every time. Effectively practicing the art and science of delegation is another characteristic of effective leadership. Leaders who fail to delegate—more often than not—become overwhelmed and frustrated and fail to turn in quality work on time, thus incurring pressure from higher management. Meanwhile, their team is left feeling underwhelmed and quickly loses interest in working for a boss who is always “too busy”, stressed out, or in a bad mood. Worse, unclear tasks are assigned with no associated deadline, resulting in poor quality and late work, which leads to frustration and demoralization of the entire team. Leaders remain accountable to the organization by delegating work in a manner that ensures high-quality work is completed on time and to standard. Additionally, they remain accountable to the team by accepting responsibility when the team fails to do so.
As previously mentioned, good leaders ensure their teams are resourced and trained to do their jobs. Great leaders also know that one day, someone will need to replace them as the leader in order for the organization to continue to grow and thrive. By learning about the professional goals of their people and providing the time and opportunity for those individuals to develop the requisite skills to reach those goals, they remain accountable to their people. By seeking out and developing the talent on hand, great leaders demonstrate accountability to the organization by positively impacting its long-term health.
Having Difficult Conversations
Finally, leaders hold themselves accountable to the organization and its people by being willing to have difficult conversations about potentially sensitive situations in a timely manner. When this is done well, organizational values are upheld, people are clear about where they stand, and respect and trust abound. When leaders are not willing to communicate difficult information, they are also very unlikely to take appropriate action when it’s needed most. This results in cultural degradation. For this reason, learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and having difficult conversations is a key characteristic of effective leadership. At Solutions 21, we provide coaching to leaders in real-time to help leaders face these sorts of challenges.
Why Having Difficult Conversations Makes for Great Leadership
The number one reason why having difficult conversations makes for great leadership is that it demonstrates a high level of personal courage and serves as an example to the team that adhering to company culture, values, and norms really matters. Additionally, people trust people who tell them the truth.
Starting the Conversation
Just like you would with a co-worker or team member, creating space on your calendar for this very important time of reflection is key. Because the conversation you are preparing for likely needs to happen sooner rather than later—taking this time for yourself and doing it as soon as absolutely possible, is imperative. When you sit down, write down the facts of the situation at hand, as well as any potential contributing factors. Do your best to remain objective, as if you are an outside observer of the situation, which leads us to our next characteristic of effective leadership.
It is human nature for the circumstances surrounding the need to have a difficult conversation to generate all kinds of emotions, such as fear, anxiety, anger, shame, and frustration. However, the facts are that none of these emotions are going to help a leader process the situation in a helpful way. You might even consider beginning this time with a reminder that bad leaders simply do not take the time to do personal reflection or try to be objective. You are not a bad leader. You are human, and so are the people that work for you. The goal of your meeting is to do your best to come to an effective resolution on what needs to happen moving forward. That way, you can lead the difficult conversation with your team members effectively.
It is often tempting to reach out to other people you work with during this time of reflection to share your perspective, vent your feelings., or seek advice on the best way to approach things. All of that seems logical. However, as a leader, you also have to keep in mind there are at least two sides to every situation. While you are sorting out what happened and what you might have done differently, you do not want to unintentionally skew someone else’s perspective about the other person.
You also do not want to come across as out of control of the situation, indecisive, or overly emotional. Even the most understanding and self-actualized co-worker might be challenged not to lose confidence in your ability to lead in tough situations. In addition, it is often hard to have these types of conversations with others while also maintaining the anonymity of the person with whom you are experiencing conflict—which would be highly unprofessional.
This is when the help of a coach or a mentor external to your organization may be a better solution. This is arguably one of the most valuable services that our company—Solutions 21—provides through an objective, discrete, third-party view of complex interpersonal scenarios. Coaches and mentors ask clarifying questions to better understand the situation, which allows the leader to seek guidance to see the situation from a different perspective. They can also ask the tough questions that the leader may not be willing or able to ask themselves, which is the point of initiating a difficult conversation with one’s self.
Taking Time for Review
Once a leader has thoroughly examined the situation and their contribution to it as objectively as possible, it is time to clarify the desired outcome. The ideal outcome in every difficult conversation is to restore harmony in the workplace and continue to produce world-class results.
If the problem is a persistent one, then this may be the time to review the company’s policies and procedures for creating an Individual Development Plan. Once clarity is obtained and these additional considerations are taken into account, the leader is now ready to formulate the structure of the difficult conversation with their employee or co-worker. Again, this is where the help of a mentor or business leadership coach can be an invaluable and timely resource. In fact, one of the top characteristics of effective leadership is knowing when to ask for help.
As stated at the beginning of this article, leadership accountability is a two-way street. Leaders are accountable to the organization they work for and the people they lead. They are accountable for doing and saying the right thing, even when it feels hard or uncomfortable. By using clear communication, active-listening techniques, delegating, taking responsibility for the work that needs to be done, seeking out leadership development opportunities for themselves and their team members, and being willing to lean into difficult conversations, leaders are taking ownership of their company’s culture and climate and helping to foster a highly effective t workplace experience for everyone. The more you exhibit these characteristics of effective leadership, the more confident you will feel in managing employee relationships.
For more information on mentorship or business coaching from Solutions 21, contact our team of leadership development experts today!