John is the plant manager for a midsize manufacturer which has been in operation for over one hundred years. For the last twenty years, leadership has focused on strengthening operations and improving leadership. John feels frustrated that historically, the organization suggests people make changes or follow practices but fails to truly hold their people accountable. The culture is focused on kindness for people and has never encompassed clear accountability. The leaders feel this is a problem but haven’t found a way to change it. 

Is there a conflict between kindness and accountability? 

The good news? There isn’t. In fact, when you take the time as a leader to set expectations and support people on your team in achieving them it clearly shows that you care. We all have relationships where showing love or kindness involves establishing boundaries, setting limits and agreeing upon rules.

Accountability doesn’t mean that leadership sets an expectation and then expects their people to meet them without guidance or support. Following are several of the key components for holding people accountable while imparting kindness toward your people. 

  1. Set very clear expectations and confirm that your people understand.
  2. Ensure your people are sufficiently trained to complete the work. 
  3. Provide sufficient coaching and mentoring to assist your team in building the needed skills to achieve results. 
  4. Provide individualized feedback to support improvement and development of your team members.  
  5. Recognize desired behaviors that are aligned with the organization’s vision of success, including the small steps or changes that create bigger results. 

Set -Up for Success 

Expectations are often set verbally, but it is critical that they are written and confirmed. They should be phrased as specific, measurable behaviors that your people understand and can achieve. While accountability can mean different things to different people, expectations become clearer when you explicitly state the desired behaviors and outcomes. 

Train for Results 

A number of shortfalls are commonly found around training efforts, including lack of clear follow up to ensure success. Many leaders may ask, “did you go to the training?” and that’s the end of the discussion.  It’s important to ensure that the training is providing the desired knowledge and skills needed to be successful.

Coach for Independence 

Leadership trends are moving towards a coaching style of leadership that empowers people rather than telling them what to do. The biggest challenge in leadership is effectively fostering a coaching style of leadership so that it becomes a daily habit. 

Many organizations struggle to find an effective way to create a leadership team capable of successful coaching. One essential element of building coaching skills is to encourage your leadership team to work together as a community and help each other create the right habits. 

Feedback for Improvement

Most leaders admit that they focus their feedback on those people or behaviors that are most problematic. 

While they intuitively know that everyone on their team needs their time and attention to become better and build skills, they struggle with effectively dividing their time and attention. Not surprisingly, the rockstars, or the highest achievers, get the least attention of all. 

It’s important that leadership teams are aware of this tendency and make an intentional effort to consistently provide feedback for everyone on the team. 

Recognize to Motivate

Positive reinforcement is more powerful than negative reinforcement. 

People respond better to being noticed for desired behaviors rather than being called out for undesired ones. Most leaders know this but still tend to focus on those who are making mistakes versus those who are getting it right. 

We suggest that leaders engage in positive reinforcement ten times for every one time they correct someone. Why? People are hardwired to seek positive attention and will naturally repeat behaviors that result in positive reinforcement. It’s simply more effective than corrective approaches. 

Moving Forward Together

Our team has spent much of the last several years helping leadership teams integrate these skills into their daily work. Not surprisingly, it works and works well.  Not because our training concepts are so unusual, but because the sessions provided leadership teams with an opportunity to come together, acknowledge their challenges, and get on a path of holding people accountable while working from the heart. 

In our next blog we will share a case study of an organization that transformed its results by fostering an environment that is both kind and holds people accountable. 

Many might say that these ideas seem simple or basic. I couldn’t agree more. They are actually the fundamentals of creating an empowered work environment. The problem for most organizations is a lack of skills and habits required to lead in a way that demonstrates both care and accountability. 

Do you have examples of achieving success through kindness  and accountability? How does your organization build the leadership skills to hold people accountable? I’d love to hear about your successes.

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