Leadership Accountability: A Circular Strategy

By Pat Heydlauff

Leadership accountability isn’t just evaluated by the marker of profitability. There are many components to accountability, but the most strikingly overlooked one is buried deep within the relationship of a leader and the workforce – the truth.

According to Sergeant Friday from the Dragnet television series, getting “just the facts, ma’am” doesn’t always tell the whole story. Accountability is based on truth, but what percentage of the truth are employees presenting to leadership – 100 percent, 65 percent, or just enough to get by?

Great leaders need to have factual and truthful information to make good decisions. In order to receive that type of information, they need to have good interpersonal relationships with their workforce – the kind that foster open-ended, confidential dialogue. It is only through this type of communicative interaction that the workforce will provide a leader the accurate information critical to making the right decisions.

Employees need to feel they can trust their leaders enough to tell them anything in complete confidence before they will expose themselves to possible blame, humiliation, ridicule, or undesirable consequences.

Apply the 80/20 Rule: It’s time to apply the 80/20 rule to employee relations and communication. The norm for most leaders is to spend 80 percent of their time behind their desks and 20 percent of their time among or communicating with the workforce. How can you possibly know what is really going on with your people if you do not spend time with them? And, how can you expect them to confide in you if they don’t know and trust you?

In order to create an engaged workforce that will gladly provide you the truthful information you need for long-term success, exchange the time you spend behind your desk with the time you spend with your workforce. No, you do not have to spend 80 percent of your time actually out in the workplace, but you do need to spend time physically out there daily and then add time together when in your office, common meeting rooms, their lunch room, or in their workspace. Obtaining truth-filled information is all about connecting, communicating, and being directly involved in their daily activities – you cannot do that sitting behind a desk.

Circular Communications are Key: Circular communications is the essential component to an accountability strategy. When everyone is accountable and engaged, productivity goes up, performance improves, and leadership’s ability to lead increases.

Get More Than Just the Facts: Start every day with a walk-through of the workplace whether it is a call center, manufacturing plant, or a retail store. Find the problems and issues that need to be addressed before the workforce begins its day. Ask questions and then listen. There is always a backstory. No matter what is happening, what went wrong, or why things didn’t work, there is always more to the story than just the surface facts. Spend time with team members and continue the dialogue until you feel you have the complete story. By showing interest in the person and the problem, he or she will learn to trust you, and you will be able to trust the information he or she imparts.

Is Anything Standing in the Way? Do your walk-through at different times of the day on different days of the week. This will provide you an array of information to connect with the workforce. When asking questions, it should never be “what happened here” or “why did this project derail?” Just as important is the question “Is anything standing in your way to prevent you from completing the task at hand?” You cannot remove something or prevent a problem standing in the way unless you know about it.

Get Anonymous Confidential Feedback on Your Performance: When seeking information and feedback, remember to get feedback on yourself. Sometimes, you might be what is standing in the way. Ensure private, uncompromised feedback from your peers and team about you. You cannot live in a vacuum or get to the truth if feedback essential to your leadership performance cannot be provided confidentially and received as constructive criticism. You also cannot stop with just getting the confidential feedback. You need to take appropriate action, or your leadership will suffer.

Leading a team or running a successful business given today’s uncertain economy, global implications, and marketplace competition is a difficult task for any leader or manager. It is all but impossible unless you have not only the facts, also but the back-story, to make wise decisions. Use the 80/20 circular accountability strategy to make decisions that result in improved workforce engagement, employee retention, and profitability.

Pat Heydlauff speaks from experience. She works with organizations that want to create an environment where employees are engaged, encouraged, and involved, and with people who want to be in control, anxiety-free, and confident. She is the author of the forthcoming book Engage, How to Lead with Power, Productivity and Promise. She can be reached at 561-799-3443.

[From the April/May 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]