Leaders: Hold Yourself Accountable

September 26, 2016

I work with leaders every day and focus on helping them build higher trust in their organizations. One observation I have made over the years is that nearly all leaders are passionate about accountability.

They do their best to make sure people in the organization produce the right things in the right ways and hold them accountable for doing so.

Unfortunately, I see very few leaders who are willing to step up to their own accountability. It is just not something that crosses their minds very often.

If something is wrong, they will blame the managers, or supervisors, or suppliers, or workers, or the government, or any other person or thing that is handy for the problems that hold the organization back.

The culture of every organization is created at the top and moves through the organization like water flowing down a mountain stream. If there are problems at any level of the organization, the top leader shares culpability because the buck stops at the top, where the source is located.

Case Example

Let’s take a case example and show the stubborn consistency of this theory. Suppose an organization has some delivery problems. They are making large engines to go into military vehicles, and they keep missing the deadlines.

The vehicle assembly company is missing their delivery dates because the engines are late. Financial penalties are imposed, and the profitability is impacted to the degree that the CEO is alarmed. He demands to know who is accountable for the delays.

He finds out that some of the suppliers have been sending low quality parts that require a lot of rework. The purchasing manager is called on the carpet for not creating a more specific quality specification. The incoming inspection manager is faulted for not catching the errors at the receiving dock.

The CEO calls in the production manager and demands to know why productivity on the line is down by 18% this year. The manager tells the CEO that people are really upset because of no raises in 3 years.

The CEO wanders out on the production line and sees 9 engines lined up to be reworked. He chews out the quality inspector who tries to explain that the finish on the cylinder bores is too rough.

He also notices that there is a lot more clutter than normal on the production floor and asks the supervisor why, only to find out the cleaning crew has staged an informal work slowdown. They take extended breaks and goof off, and their supervisor lets them get away with working only a couple hours a day.

By now the CEO is fuming. It is obvious why things are going wrong in every corner of the building. People at all levels are not doing the right things, and the whole organization is over budget, late, and producing a low quality product.

Now suppose this CEO decided to bring in a consultant to help get things back on track. He tells the consultant that all of the managers and supervisors need some basic training in how to do their jobs better and how to “motivate the troops.”

The consultant decides to do some checking before making a recommendation. She spends a few days looking at the data and talking with people all over the operation, then she reports back her assessment.

The CEO meets with the consultant, and is all ears on what needs to be done to bring the operation back into control. The consultant recommends that the CEO push his chair back from his desk, stand up, walk down the hall and go into the men’s room.

She suggests he take a good long look in the mirror at the source of his problems and ask himself some tough questions such as the following:

• Morale is terrible in this plant, and as the CEO, how have I been contributing to this problem?

• What is keeping me from fully holding myself accountable for this awful situation?

• In what ways have I been trying to lay the blame on the supervisors, employees, bad economy, suppliers, business downturn, competition, etc., and how can I deal with the current situations and business environment in a more empowering and effective way for all concerned?

• What fundamental changes in the structure, behaviors, values, and vision am I going to make to completely change the environment?

• What behaviors do I need to change at my level, starting right now, to build a culture of higher trust?

• In what ways can I change the attitudes of the workers by changing my own attitudes and behaviors?

• Since bonuses, or picnics, or parties, or hat days are not going to have much impact on long term motivation, how can I find out what really will inspire people and then implement the proper changes to the environment?

• How can I be a better mentor for my supervisors as well as train them to be better mentors to their own staff?

• How am I going to find a way to quadruple the time I have available to communicate with people?

• Do I need assistance to solve these issues? If so, what kind of help could I use and where can I find it?

• How can I know if, or when, it is time to pursue other opportunities and let someone with a different skill set handle the turnaround? Maybe someone else should be leading this company, since I have messed it up so badly.

Now the CEO is faced with an awful truth: the root cause of the problem is him. If he heeds the advice of the consultant, it means he needs to start by holding himself accountable, but that hurts too much.

It is so much easier to spot the symptoms and hold everyone else accountable. Unfortunately this CEO is not likely to hire that consultant, yet the advice he is hearing is spot on.

If we can get more top leaders to view their responsibility as creating a great culture where things work because everyone in the organization is turned on by the vision and trust in leadership is high, then excellence is possible.

It takes a wise and humble leader to view his or her role as creator and maintainer of the culture. Those who can do it will thrive, those who simply blame others will eventually fail.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

Enjoy Your Wiggle

March 2, 2013

Wiggle croppedHow do you feel about being you? Be truthful with yourself, and think about how much you like yourself right this moment. This article, hopefully, will shock you into a different frame of mind relative to your happiness and the quality of your life.

I teach many online courses, and deal with students from all over the world. I recall one interchange between a student living in a frigid part of the USA and another student in Hawaii.

At one point, the student who lived in Detroit was lamenting another dreary day, and he had reached the breaking point. His comment to the student in Hawaii was, “Well, I have to take responsibility for my own misery. After all, I chose not to live in paradise.” I immediately wrote to the complaining student reminding him that “paradise” is a state of mind rather than a state of the Union.

There are numerous things that gauge the level of satisfaction and happiness we milk out of living. This article focuses on one’s perception of self. Most of us are in the middle of a long progression of the days of our lives. It feels like we have been around forever, and we have a long way to go before somebody puts us in a pine box. We live each day reacting to the forces and challenges that hit us. Some days are good, and others are bad.

We are what we are because that is what we have chosen to be. Many people go through life being unhappy with themselves and blaming others or circumstances (like if I only had a smaller nose). We have such a short time on this planet, and it would be smart to be happy with ourselves first and foremost.

Nobody else has to wake up with you and be with you 100% of the time, so if you are not happy with yourself, the quality of your precious life is diminished. Who would be to blame for that? Hmmm…let me think.

My observation of our lives in the grand scheme of the universe and the ages is that human beings are all like little worms. You have to go up only a few miles and look down through a telescope, and you can observe us all wiggling around all over the world as we move through our day.

We show up and wiggle around for a fleeting 80 or so years, and then we are gone. Eighty years in celestial time is hardly a blink. Better make sure you are enjoying your wiggle. Our possessions that we covet, our money that we lust after make very little difference in the end. All that matters is how much of an impact we have managed to have on others, how much love we have generated, and how much we have enjoyed our wiggle.

What are some of the things that contribute to enjoying your wiggle? Here are a few examples. (Note, this list is not exhaustive.)

Making a contribution: We all make contributions, both good and bad. If you have provided one shred of thought that has been recorded and provided value to other people, you have made a contribution. Two shreds counts for double that value, so provide many shreds of value to the advancement of society.

Finding honest love: If we feel deeply in our soul that we have loved the people in our lives, then we go to our grave reflecting on a life well lived. This, of course, includes family, but it also includes heroes, mentors, classmates, pets, friends, grocers, ducks, lamps, books, and any other person or thing that we truly love.

Believing in an Infinite Power: Many people think of this as religion, but it really covers the entire realm of spiritual awareness. I do not know about you, but I really do believe that something is guiding my steps at times, and it is not just me. There have been too many remarkable surprises handed to me in life for me to take credit for thinking them up or for them to be just random coincidences. You can call it what you wish, but there is an Infinite Presence there somehow.

Helping others: Whenever you give of yourself to help another, you feel great about yourself. That effort is a really good wiggle in your daily routine. The help can come in any form, and the only criterion is that at that time you were thinking more about the other person’s situation than your own. The help could be financial, physical, emotional, or even comical.

Making something: To create a thing of beauty, or even ugliness since beauty is subject to interpretation, is a good wiggle. Some people are really good at this, like my father, who painted over 2000 fine watercolor paintings after the age of 55. Some people create great food or fine woodwork. To shape the elements into a new configuration that has never been done is intrinsically rewarding. Most creations are not marketable, but they are physical evidence that we were around and wiggling happily.

Teaching or mentoring: As we seek to impart some of our wisdom onto other people, we give the gift of knowledge. It is a subset of helping others, but this one is special, because we target the help on an individual who benefits from it. For a person with great insight and knowledge to keep it to himself really wastes his wiggle time. I think it is really difficult to mentor from the grave, although some people do believe strongly in doing it or receiving it, which is part of their own wiggle.

Appreciating what you experience: This attitude is all about not being numb to the beauty all around us every day. Seeing the small acts of kindness of one person toward another brings us joy. Marveling at the beauty of a flower, the taste of raspberry Jello, or the Bach B Minor Mass provides deep joy, but only if you are awake and paying attention.

Loving what you do: The ability to look at each day as an adventure into the possible instead of a drudgery of our current agony is what lifts us up. Hope is there when you enjoy your work and your play. There is a choice you make every day as you wiggle through it.

Those are just eight examples from the top of my head of how to make the most out of your 80-year wiggle. Who knows, you might beat the odds and wiggle until you are older than 100, or you might check out in your 20s. You will notice the absence of wealth or possessions on my list, because I think those things dry up and blow away very quickly after we stop wiggling. In the grand scheme of the world and the eons of time, the only thing that really matters is what you did with your opportunity to wiggle, not how big a pile of clutter you were able to generate.