Did you know that one out of every two managers is terrible at accountability?
According to a study published in Harvard Business Review that researched 5,400 managers...
Our brains are naturally wired to seek out certainty and a sense of safety.
When faced with ambiguity, our survival brain takes over, relying on ingrained patterns, habits, and biases to make decisions. The result is we make decisions based on fear and a limited perspective on what’s available to us.
In the workplace, operating from this survival brain can have negative consequences. Employees may only pay lip service to new initiatives, become uncooperative and distrustful, and waste time on tasks and priorities that are not aligned with the organisation's goals.
The good news is that our brains also have the capacity to feel safe and operate at a more resourceful level. It requires a leader who has the ability to help people feel safe, connected and believe in a positive future.
In this state, employees feel empowered to express their opinions, share ideas and be accountable. A place where they feel they can be themselves.
As leaders, it is important to be mindful of the unintentional triggers that can send employees into the survival brain. And I'm not talking about the usual suspects of creating distrust such as micromanagement, inconsistency, blaming others or failing to provide recognition.
Instead, I am going to share five common challenges that silently erode trust and your leadership.
"The key is not to prioritise what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities." -Stephen Covey
In today’s fast moving environment, leaders often confuse “being busy on busy stuff” as a sign of success and a hallmark of leadership. Unfortunately, we aren’t effective when we are really busy. Prioritising our time to work on the biggest impact is crucial – whether that’s our products, our people or our customers. If we easily get sidetracked by the most demanding drama, we spread ourselves too thinly and perform tasks at an average level.
But it also affects strategy. Leaders that lurch from one crisis to another, immersed in the day to day are at risk of making strategy decisions that are ineffectual and sometimes just plain wrong. The danger is that employees feel neglected and are more likely to provide filtered information for fear of overwhelming you. Being able to successfully course correct and make reality based decisions is difficult when you’re not present to what is going on in the marketplace or even with your own employees.
One of the biggest fallouts from being busy and unfocused is that employees start to distrust their leader. Common complaints are that the leader doesn’t listen to them in meetings or take action on their suggestions. It can even make some employees feel that their boss is too disorganised to find the time to help them, which reflects poorly on their perception of the leader’s capability.
One of the distinguishing features of successful leaders is that they have laser-like focus on working on their strategy and empowering those around them. They do this by being completely present at meetings, asking questions that enhance their employees’ abilities to do and think more, delegate low-value tasks and ensure they work on the highest priority. And they don’t waste time being perfect. Perfectionism kills action and momentum.
Effective communication is essential for reducing anxiety and eliminating ambiguity in the workplace. When communication is vague and assumes that others can read minds, it creates a sense of fear among employees.
Exceptional leaders understand the importance of clarity and spend time contemplating what truly matters for their organisation. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely! Clear communication coupled with decisive action leads to increased efficiency and speed.
According to Christine Comaford the author or Smart Tribes, leaders need to be clear in their:
The ability for everyone in an organisation to confidently rely on (and predict) that others will do the right thing and make good on their promises.
Whether it's leaders depending on their subordinates or marketing relying on manufacturing, trust is crucial for smooth operations.
However, research conducted by Harvard Business Review revealed that only 9% of managers feel they can always rely on cross-functional colleagues, and just 50% say they can rely on them most of the time. Managers also admit that they are three times more likely to miss performance commitments due to insufficient support from other units rather than their own team's failure to deliver.
Even CEOs and other leaders sometimes extend trust to employees, only to be disappointed when they fail to take full ownership of their roles or meet expectations. T
To establish a culture of accountability, leaders must lead by example and honour all requests and promises. This can be challenging as it requires time, commitment, and discipline. Moreover, leaders and organisations must demand accountability by implementing processes that no longer tolerate poor performance. These processes include:
This is an obvious one - but it has a few layers to it. And the one I find leaders forget about is that visibility also means being approachable.
Meetings and one-on-ones are high quality interactions that build trust with those around you but it’s also important that you are visible and approachable outside of those dedicated times.
One of the biggest requests I get from employees when I am doing stakeholder interviews is that they want leaders to, ‘Just say hello. Ask questions about what people are working on. Be human.’ Small interactions make a big difference to employees and must become a weekly structured part of the work leaders do.
Driving results seems to be an obvious requirement for leaders to achieve.
Yet, it’s common to find teams or departments who have been performing below standard for months, while other departments work hard to pick up the slack and have begrudgingly come to terms with not expecting too much.
These teams are what I call Abatement Zone teams - their performance is declining, but they don't know it.
Generally, if the leader or other team members are poor performers it gives license to others to perform below standard. If there is one thing that causes distrust in an organisation, it’s when employees are allowed to continue working, even though their performance is dragging everyone down around them. Often, the leader and company become the scapegoats because they haven’t done anything to remove the offender.
Improving safety in the team and demanding accountability is what is needed to lift performance creating a team in the Achievement Zone.
As human beings, we all want to be trusted. Our deepest need is to be visible, to feel heard and that we belong. We want people to trust us to do a good job, to value what we do and involve us in their future plans. We want to feel that we can shape our future and of those around us – that we have control over our destiny.
Moving to the achievement zone means changing how you lead your team and how they work together. It means creating an environment where there are multiple signals that people are safe, connected and have a bright future together. It talks to people’s hearts - soothing them with the important non-verbal message ‘we’re stronger together.’
Creating a high trust culture boils down to every employee knowing they can rely on every person around them. It means everyone is committed to performing at a high level and helping their peers achieve as well. It requires leaders who lead with trust and who follow through on promises and hold others to account. They communicate honestly and frequently. They help employees see the meaning behind their work and that they matter. They create a safe environment for people to speak up and be themselves.
A lack of focus, poor accountability, unclear communication, disconnecting from others or tolerating poor results slowly kills progress and degrades trust. We can quite easily adjust the business levers of process and profit, but it really is optimising the people lever that is much harder but provides the most beneficial results long term. Without improving people performance, mediocrity is inevitable.
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