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Accountability is challenging, as you know.

You want to hold people accountable for meeting performance and behavioral standards but don’t want to come across as a jerk.

Here are five action steps to help you do that.

1. Clarify your expectations.

I found that the fault was usually mine whenever one of my subordinates did not meet my expectations.

I did not set clear expectations. My subordinates did what they thought I wanted, but their mind-reading abilities were limited.

I learned to look in the mirror first when my expectations weren’t met.

Clarify your performance expectations using What + So That + When.

What: the task or requirement.

So That: the outcomes or results you expect.

When: the due date.

Let your subordinates figure out how they are going to get the intended results on time.

Adding “so that” forces you to communicate the intended result precisely.

Use this approach with every task, and you will find that people get the outcomes you want on time.

Clarify your behavioral expectations using What + So That + Examples.

Nearly every organization has it’s core values listed, defined, and posted on the walls.

They fail to specify what right looks like, though, so you have a tough time holding people accountable for values.

This problem creates cynicism as people perceive a say-do disconnect. 

When you have made your behavioral expectations obvious, contrary behavior stands out more sharply and is much easier to address.

There is a direct correlation between expectations and results.

2. Get a back-brief.

After you provide the “What + So That + When,” have your subordinates relay that back to you in their own words so that both parties know that you have a mutual understanding. [see the so that at work :0)]

Next, have them provide a brief sketch of how they will go about doing the task to get the desired results on time so that you know their game-plan is heading in the right direction.

This step gives you both the opportunity to check for Task – Result mismatches and provide any additional guidance and coaching.

Having your subordinates develop the how-tos gives them greater ownership and buy-in so that you are more likely to get high levels of engagement and great outcomes.

3. Set the right example.

Accountability works when you apply the expectations equally to everyone.

Accountability starts with you.

When you hold yourself accountable to meet performance and behavioral expectations, everyone will accept being held to the same standards.

4. Don’t play favorites.

Rules are arbitrary if they apply to some people and not others.

Going back to point #1, when the expectations are clear, you reduce the fogginess.

You can have objective conversations about accountability rather than emotional ones.

5. Follow-thru consistently.

With such clear expectations, you can more easily get to the root of problems.

Did someone fail to perform the task? Determine what circumstances led to that shortfall.

Did the task not achieve the intended results? You can determine if the shortcoming was poor performance or if you have a task – outcome mismatch.

Was the task not done on time? You can find out if your priorities are confusing, resources inadequate, or if your subordinate is overloaded.

That’s it!

1. Clarify your expectations.

2. Get a back-brief.

3. Set the right example.

4. Don’t play favorites.

5. Follow-through consistently.

What is your top takeaway from this article? Write a comment, DM, or email me at [email protected]

A Forbes Coaches Council Post.

The soundtrack from the Broadway hit “Hamilton” is inspirational and is a reminder of music’s incredible power. But there’s more: Listen to it from a leadership development perspective and you’ll find pearls of wisdom for leaders looking to better develop themselves and their team. The following are a few timeless lessons embedded in several of the show’s songs.

Create and take advantage of opportunities.

In act one, Lin-Manuel Miranda repeatedly belts out the words, “I’m not throwin’ away my shot,” as part of the song “My Shot.” His character, Alexander Hamilton, raps about his frustrations with the British, his vision for a better future and his desire to leave a lasting legacy.

Life is filled with windows of opportunity or “shots.” The questions we need to ask as leaders are:

• Do we create these spaces of advantage in our own life or team?

• How do we notice them when they show up?

• How do we act when they appear?

The best leaders create, watch for, recognize, leap into and guide themselves and those they lead into these spaces of advantage. More importantly, they develop this capability within those they lead.  

Think big.

In that same catchy song are the lyrics “Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up. Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up.” A compelling cause is greater than the self. The best leaders figure out ways to get buy-in. A challenge that, no doubt, the founding fathers navigated.

Over the long haul, it’s not necessarily the most talented teams that win, as we often believe, but rather the best teams. So, the question is how do we develop the best team? Creating an environment and culture where individuals feel compelled to sacrifice and give their best effort for a cause larger than self is a great way to develop a team.

Culture is the foundation. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quotation attributed to the business management guru Peter Drucker. With all due respect to Peter, I advise leaders that culture eats a hell of a lot more than strategy: It eats everything, all the time, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and it’s still hungry. Culture has the appetite of a growing teenager. So, great leaders set and get their culture right. They align their vision, mission, values and personal leadership philosophy. Leaders deliberately — and with great purpose — figure out how they will routinely turn those words into action. They identify their culture carriers, recruit and retain for culture and develop talent. Leaders challenge and support individuals to become a team. They focus their energy on the team.

Control the controllable, discard the rest.

The Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote, “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” Similarly, in the song “Wait For It,” the lyrics “I am the one thing in life I can control” remind us the best leaders come to realize they have minimal control over externals. Conversely, mediocre leaders apply an excessive amount of time thinking and worrying about these externals. A few things to remember:

• Our attitude and how we choose to respond to our environment are in our control.

• The space between stimuli and our response is the space we own. Extend that space as long as possible for the best decision making.

• With clarity comes freedom of action and the ability to focus on those things we can control; this is a competitive advantage worthy of pursuit.  

Fuel grit and resilience in your people.

In the song “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” the powerful lyric “When you knock me down, I get the f#@k back up again!” represents the ability to embrace failure through grit and resilience. What motivates people and teams to persevere, to continually put in the effort? Leaders who guide their team to be able to answer for themselves the following three questions are well on their way to creating the motivation essential to grit and resilience. These three questions are:

• In terms of what I want or what is being asked of me, can I do it?

• Will it matter?

• Do I care about the outcome?

These are the building blocks of great success — the hallmarks that define champions. Leaders create a compelling narrative that help people arrive at an empathetic “yes” and support their reasons for “yes.” They also figure out ways to show tangible proof of micro-wins with those they lead. 

You must constantly be preparing.

A common characteristic amongst the best leaders in sports, business and the military is they all possess a humility to constantly prepare and develop themselves so that they are ready for opportunity when it presents itself. The song “The Room Where It Happens” is about the character Aaron Burr’s desire to have a seat at the table where political decisions are being made. It made me think about the difficult moments when leaders are alone. In order to make themselves ready for the big moment, they must prepare and sacrifice. They work to be the best when no one is watching and, in a way, on this quest to become more self-aware and improve their skills, they are alone in the room — just themselves with no place to hide. As a leader, do you seek to “catch” your people in moments of preparation and sacrifice? Do you remind them that comfort disables and discomfort enables? Great leaders understand “I’ve got to be in the room where it happens,” and getting to the “it” involves relentless preparation.

“Hamilton” is a powerful reminder that we possess free will and unlimited potential, and how we think and act can mean the difference between a mediocre or great executive and team.


“I want my subordinates to make decisions,” Jim told me, “but they keep asking for permission.”

Why is that so bad, I asked him, you know they won’t make a wrong decision.

“The problem is that the decisions keep piling up on my plate. It’s like the salad bar at Olive Garden. Before you know it, you’ve got a mound of everything, and you lose your appetite for the main course. I feel like I can never get to the main course.”

Greens can be good for you.

“The problem is that I need to make my decisions – that’s the main course. My decisions are getting cold and stale because I’m choking on the salad bar. We’re losing opportunities because I’m in the weeds.”

That makes sense. What have you done to encourage your subordinates to make decisions?

“I tell them that’s what I want them to do. They nod in agreement. An hour later, the emails come in asking me permission to do this, that, and the other thing.”

What happened the last time someone made a poor decision?

“I kinda lost my mind.”

Does this conversation sound familiar?

I’ve had a version of it three times in the past week, which is why I’m writing this article for you.

The COVID pandemic and economic uncertainty have made people even more risk-averse.

Decisions that your direct reports should be making are piling up on your plate and reducing your bandwidth to do your job.

Here are three action steps that will help you boost people’s confidence to make decisions.

1. Define the decision-space. Have your direct reports outline the scope of their decision-making authority and boundaries. Discuss and refine. You’ll be able to reinforce the shared commitment to your common purpose as you do so. 

2. Set the expectations. Every time you lose your mind when someone makes an honest mistake, you discourage initiative.

Let people know how you will respond if a decision they make does not work out well.

If it’s a mistake of commission – someone erred when trying to do the right thing – then you need to underwrite the error and coach.

Underwriting the mistake will sustain their confidence that you won’t throw them under the bus. Coaching will help your subordinates learn from the experience.

A mistake of omission – laziness, ethical short-cuts, etc. – deserves punishment.

Walk your talk.

3. Practice. Rehearse the decisions and your responses if things go well or go poorly. When someone tries to put the ball in your lap, give it back to them, and review steps 1 and 2.

What’s your top takeaway about encouraging people to make decisions?

Let me know with a comment or email at [email protected]

The United States Army says that leadership is “the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.”

A cringe-worthy business leadership definition is “the capacity of a company’s management to set and achieve challenging goals, take fast and decisive action when needed, outperform the competition, and inspire others to perform at the highest level they can.”

Here’s the problem with these definitions: any jerk with a big enough stick can meet these standards.

Here’s the effect: the lack of standards that differentiate leaders from jerks can prompt you to rationalize bad behavior that gets results.

As you know, excusing tyranny is a devil’s bargain that rarely ends well.  

“Chickenshit” behavior, to use historian Paul Fussell‘s elegant term for toxic leadership in the Army, ends up pushing your top talent out the door, demoralizing your employees, and creating a toxic workplace.

Disengagement, presenteeism, and turnover are the highest costs most companies face.

Turnover, according to Gallup, costs somewhere between 50 and 200 percent of an employee’s annual salary.

That means a 100-person company with a 50k average salary that has a 26 percent turnover rate (the U.S. average in 2017) loses $660,000 to $2.6 million each year.

What options would $1.6 million give you?

Getting turnover to a healthy eight percent begins with good leadership.

Here’s SLA’s definitionLeadership is the art of inspiring people to contribute their best to the common good.

Here are five action steps to inspire people to contribute their best to your company’s common good:

* Lead with authenticity so that you get past imposter syndrome and stop allowing the red cape at work to make you comatose at home.

* Inspire people to do what’s right even when no one is watching so that you avoid micromanaging and focus instead on growth.

* Get the right people in the right roles doing the right things so that you plug the drain on employee turnover and boost productivity 2X – 3X.

* Adapt quickly to turbulence and uncertainty so that you can innovate and lead change – and avoid slow-rolling and risk aversion that kills your best initiatives.

* Set aside empty cheerleading and carrots-and-sticks so that you can spark a genuine commitment to results.

What do you think of our definition of leadership? Add your comments to the article or email me at [email protected]

Do you want a healthy, winning culture where people do what’s right even when no one is watching?

Focus on morale.

A lot of companies focus instead on mood – keeping people happy, all the time, at work.

You see this with games, parties, happiness stickers, motivational posters, and the like.

Like everyone, I enjoy being in a good mood.

Mood, though, is temporary dopamine.

It’s the sugar-donut approach to culture.

It does not inspire commitment to your mission or one another.

Without morale, your efforts to keep people in a good mood are mostly a waste of time and money.

Morale is about confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline – doing what’s right with a high degree of skill and care, even when no one’s watching.

Morale is your commitment to excellence.

Morale keeps you and your employees moving forward and bouncing back – able to handle both successes and setbacks.

To build high morale, start with these three principles.

1. Make sure everyone knows that their work is essential.

Create buy-in by discussing the thinking behind and the importance of your mission and vision, your goals, values, and strategy.

Get people involved in defining them.

Take the time to answer questions and challenges.

When someone asks why it means they care.

2. Get your employees the training, resources, and guidance to do their jobs well.

If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. If it’s not worth doing well, it’s probably not worth doing.

Set-up your employees for success.

Align work with people’s natural inclinations (see our PROM Servant Leader archetypes for a simple way to start).

People who report using their natural strengths each day are 2X to 3X more productive than their peers.

3. Let people know that you appreciate who they are and what they do.

Coach people to be the best versions of themselves (see our PROM Servant Leader archetypes for a simple way to start).

Do not subconsciously try to turn them into clones of you.

Nothing says, “I don’t appreciate you” quite like efforts to turn people into mini-mes or suggestions that they hide their identities.

Instead, help them contribute as their best and most authentic selves.

Take special care to ensure that your most vulnerable employees feel the safety and confidence that they can contribute as their best and most authentic selves.

Your most vulnerable employees tend to be those who look, think, or act differently than the majority.

Recognize people’s contributions in ways that they want to be recognized. It’s the morale-version of the platinum rule.

Take these three action steps, and you will develop an all-weather, high morale company that succeeds not just some of the time, but ALL OF THE TIME.

What’s your top takeaway? Let me know with a comment, DM, or email to [email protected].

P.S. I set aside time each week for strategy calls. We’ll discuss:

  • Your goals
  • The obstacles you want to overcome
  • 2-3 action steps to solve problems and get results

No sales, no bait-and-switch, no BS.

Schedule your call here.

You would have to be an idiot not to take diversity and inclusion seriously.

Study after study shows the economic power of diversity.

A diverse, high-performing team is more productive, your leaders make better decisions, and you avoid the drama that makes for a toxic workplace.

The return on investment is such a no-brainer that companies spend millions each year on diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs.

The likelihood that these programs deliver diverse AND high-performing teams, though, is too limited.

A recent Wall Street Journal study shows that companies are doing well in hiring diverse talent, but not in promoting them.

The first management rung seems to be the hardest to climb.

What’s happening?

Systemic bigotry is part of the problem.

Another part of the problem is that companies set their employees up for failure when they fail to align work with people’s natural inclinations.

When your hiring focuses mostly on diversity-that-you-can-see, you heighten the risk of putting the round peg in the square hole.

You know the results: heightened frustration, less productivity, and faster burnout.

People who report using their natural inclinations – their superpowers – each day are two-to-three times more productive than those who do not.

Using your superpowers each day means higher engagement, better performance, and less frustration and burnout.

Aligning work with natural inclinations is the best way to set up your employees for success so that you are more likely to retain and promote them.

We’ve developed a straightforward and free tool that you can use to promote diversity of natural strengths and make your leaders successful.

Servant leaders come in four broad archetypes: Pioneers (innovators), Reconcilers (team-builders), Operators (implementers), and Mavericks (game-changers).

Your subordinates are more likely to thrive when you put them in positions aligned with their superpowers.

You will be a better mentor when you help each person be the best version of themselves rather than sub-consciously encouraging them to copycat you.

You will also avoid what my mentor Michele Flournoy calls the mini-me syndrome – the tendency to surround yourself with people who think and act as you do.

The combination of physical and cognitive diversity will power your growth, limit expensive mistakes, and make your company a better place to work.

Do your most vulnerable employees feel that they can contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Get the tool here.

What’s your top leadership takeaway from this article?

Add a comment or email me at [email protected] 

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Do you know what it’s like to live every day feeling like you’ve got a target on your back?

Can you understand what it’s like to feel that society has stacked the deck against you?

Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel that your co-workers and managers look down on you because you are different?

If you are like me, you cannot answer the first two from personal experience. You can read about it, talk to people who have lived it, and you can empathize.

But you cannot fully understand.

You can do your part to treat everyone with dignity and respect; to make a positive ripple in a lake of prejudice and injustice.

As a leader, you need to get question #3 and fix it. The buck stops with you.

There’s no excuse for ignorance, complacency, or self-deception.

Make your team a lake of dignity and respect that does not tolerate anyone who tries to put a toxic ripple in it.  

It’s the right thing to do.

It’s also smart.

I was bullied and sexually assaulted as a teenager. I couldn’t concentrate in school afterward or when I felt the predators were circling.

I’ve also, unintentionally, said and done stupid things that hurt other people.

I was fortunate to have had people who told me the truth – lessons I do not forget.

Employees who feel that they have to hide, live a lie, put up with disrespect, or look over their shoulders are less engaged and productive.

Wouldn’t you be?

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

If you were to use a 1-5 scale, with 5 being “Always,” anything less than 5 from every employee means you are wasting talent and money.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to find out.

1. Get some objective data. You can’t see the label when you are inside the jar. The combination of anonymous questionnaires, focus groups, and interviews provides you points of view you are not going to get by yourself.

2. Shop your Culture. You shop your business to see how well your sales team performs, and if your processes are user-friendly, why don’t you do the same for your culture?

3. Look for the signals. What do people put in their workspace? How well do your employees care for your bathrooms and facilities? Do people cluster in like-groups or diverse groups?

Look at your workplace from a vulnerable employee’s point of view so you don’t walk past problems anymore.

Once you know the data, you can take action.

How well are these steps working for you?

Let me know: [email protected]

Accountability is a four-way intersection.

Accountability means being answerable to someone for something important.

When you lead with accountability, you keep your commitments to your vision and mission, your employees, your customers, and your partners.

Lack of accountability leads to neglect, poor performance, abuse, and backbiting.

When you uphold accountability fairly, you show that you are sincere, you set the example, and you don’t play favorites.

Accountability improves commitment to your vision, mission, goals, and values.

Accountability reduces your need to micromanage and spend energy on compliance.

Accountability is possible when you make your goals and expectations clear.

Accountability improves when you share your goals and expectations.

An accountability group accelerates your performance because you are sharing your goals with people who are committed to your success.

Accountability gives you the focus to work on your business.

Accountability strengthens your promise to sharpen yourself so you can lead to greater success.

Accountability puts you back in command.

There’s a direct line from accountability to success.

Only you can draw it.

Leadership is the art of inspiring people to contribute their best to your team’s success (check out the free Leading Well masterclass) – accountability builds commitment so that people do what’s right even when no one is watching.

What’s your top takeaway from this article? Write me at [email protected]

Overcommunicate is a terrible term, because it’s imprecise, confusing, and can lead to all sorts of goofy outcomes.

What, exactly, does overcommunicate mean: talk more, have more meetings, speculate out loud?

We have seen the outcomes of these kinds of practices. Some teams have tried cyber-micromanagement – keeping their people on an open video line all day.

Others have ramped up the frequency of meetings – many that have no clear agenda or outcomes.

We have seen the fear, anxiety, and confusion that comes from leaders speculating out loud, ruminating about internal deliberations, and providing fact-free timelines and promises.

Stop overcommunicating.

Start communicating clearly and building confidence that you’ve got the judgment to lead your team through the COVID crisis and into the recovery.

Here are some practical tips for doing that.

1. Set your cadence. Your rhythm of meetings and routines needs to be purposeful and predictable. These become your team’s handrails through the uncertainty as you cross the COVID-chasm below.

2.  Open channels. Make informal town-halls part of your cadence. Take questions from people during the session. Stick to the facts as you know them. Feel free to say, “I don’t know” and “We’re still discussing that and haven’t made a decision. I’m very interested in your ideas, too.” Make sure these are sessions where people feel safe to voice ideas, opinions, and concerns.

3. Get moving. Put together three-to-five simple scenario plans. What are the common elements? Once you identify those you can start moving forward. Identify the forks down the road and the information you need to know to decide which path to take.  

4. Keep everyone engaged. Let people know the what and the why as you get moving. Empower them to figure out how. This simple practice lowers the chaos, boosts confidence, and increases your command of the situation.

5. Watch, Listen and Learn. You’ve got two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Watch and listen at least four times more than you speak. Ask questions and get people thinking and solving problems.

You got it. Five tips to stop the babble and build confidence in success. Bam!

How well are these tips working for you?  Send me a message and let me know.

The Second Secret to Owning a Successful Business: 

CULTURE

The Secret To Owning a Successful Business: Culture

SUSTAINABLE GROWTH.

As I highlighted in “The Secret to Success in Owning a Business,” the special sauce to having a successful restaurant, small business, or non-profit resides in three simple, but profound ideas: Leadership, Culture, and Strategy.

Last time we focused on leadership, the ring leader.  Now, let’s focus on the elephant under the big tent.

CULTURE.

Everyone is talking about it, but few have a complete understanding. There is an expression “culture eats strategy for lunch.” Similarly, as Dr. Chris Kolenda so appropriately said in a recent post, “culture always collects.”  Don’t underestimate the power culture has over your business.

CULTURE IS ALWAYS ON THE MOVE.

In a 2017 blog post entitled the 2020 Workplace: The Future Workplace Trends to Know Right Now“, Nikos Andriotis did a great job doing what we should all do if we are hoping to be proactive, instead of reactive.  The business environment is constantly changing, and with it, the culture within.  Niko’s blog itself is case and point, promoting “the most-affordable and user-friendly learning management system on the market.”  Since when did how we learn our jobs efficiently and effectively make so much of a difference?  It’s a fact.  The world is rapidly getting smaller.  It’s getting progressively hotter.  And if you’re not ahead, you will find yourself behind faster than ever before!

And like a plant that has all the sunshine, water, and soil nutrients it needs, your business’s Sustainable Growth relies upon a healthy culture.  An unhealthy culture steals away the very sunshine, water, and nutrients necessary, and adds a powerful herbicide to quickly choke out your business’s Sustainable Growth.  So, what does a healthy culture look and feel like?

HEALTHY CULTURE.

If it is the restaurant culture we are thinking about, we can probably visualize a healthy culture, right?  It should:

  • Be inviting and keep customers coming back for more
  • Reward values like friendliness, cleanliness, expediency, and precision.
  • Maintain accountability by disciplining behaviors such as dishonesty, disrespectfulness, and laziness
  • Retain talented and engaged employees by incentivizing and motivating programs and processes.
Sustainable Growth will never come if you are not continually striving to be better in aspects of your culture.

Quick-action Steps to Sustainable Growth.

Here are three small things that may serve you well in your endeavor to be the best in your business:

  1. Do a quick mental assessment of your business culture: How happy and motivated are your  1) employees?  2) customers?  3) you?
  2. Ask your team what they think about the culture (even better, have someone else ask and capture feedback).  Any trends?  Any negative surprises?  Anything positively noteworthy?
  3. Lastly, reflecting on what we have envisioned a healthy culture, list 3-5 tangible things that are keeping you from increasing the health of your culture.

So, how is your business’s culture?

  • Do the location and your people say everything you want them to say? Are they saying something you don’t want it to say?  How do you know?
  • Are your employees well-versed in reflecting the culture you would like? If not, where you do start? We have many tools and resources that can help you get where you want to go! Check us out!
  • If you are unsure of the message your culture is sending, it is worth the time and effort to get help from someone outside your organization.

Tackle this critical task today before the unhealthy aspects of your culture eat the positive aspects of your strategy and leadership for lunch.

LET’S GET OUT THERE AND DO IT!