Leadership Series: Accountability
The system only works if your staff is “all in”, and the ones who aren’t will stand out like a dandelion on your campus green on graduation day.
This is the third of a six part series on leadership by Geoff Van Berkel from Calvin College and Eco Green Supply. Read the previous installments listed below and stay tuned every Friday for more.
Truthfully- how many of us like to be held accountable, in life or at work?
For many years now I have involved myself in accountability relationships with other men at the church I have attended for the last 23 years.
The purpose of these relationships is simple in theory but rather intense in practice. We promise transparency in all areas of our lives to these other men, and with that give them permission to speak truth into the areas where we are falling short of being a good man, husband, father or friend.
Transparency is letting other guys into your messy areas of life and trusting them to help you clean it up. Out of control credit card debt, improper relationships, anger in family relationship, surfing websites where a husband shouldn’t be looking- all those are fair game and on the table for discussion.
The catch is- the system only works if everyone is fully in. You can’t listen to another’s dirt and expect to speak to that if I’m hauling around buckets of my own that I’m not willing to show. Being a part of this group of men is humbling and hard- but the rewards of accountability is greater than the cost.
We have a saying that gets thrown around at Calvin College; “Trust but verify”. A loaded three words that can be interpreted in a myriad of different ways. For some, “Trust but Verify” equals “no trust”. If I need to tell you something today, then prove it tomorrow- then there is no trust- there is only verify.
For some, it looks more like “Trust but Backpedal”. Those times when maybe you fudge the numbers to get by, or hope that no one will notice that small job didn’t quite get done as you said it was. You were trusted with the job but now the excuses come why it wasn’t really done as you said.
For others, trust has been lost, so verify is all that’s left- that is micromanagement and will never result in a well-functioning team.
Or perhaps “Trust and Verify” can be a little more like the relationships I have with my friends at church- an open and humble relationship at work that invites honesty.
So, just last week our Wood Chipper broke again- same shaft, same sheared coupler after only about 30 hours of gentle run time. I have an awesome Mechanic in my shop who took care of all the details the first time it broke, but in my frustration, I told him I would take care of it- I made the call to the dealer, expressed frustration and got the wheels in motion for a warranty repair. I hung up the phone feeling pretty good about myself.
It wasn’t until about 7 pm that I started to get an uncomfortable feeling about the situation. The guy who fixes the machine, maintains it, runs it and cares for it should have been the one to take on the issue- it’s his skin in the game. I threw out the “hero” card and stomped on his role. I didn’t trust him to do his job.
The more I thought on it, the smaller I felt.
The next morning, first thing was an apology to Scott (the Mechanic). How can he trust me as a leader if I don’t trust him with the fleet- it’s my job to support his work, not jump in and do it when I see something isn’t right?
That took some humility on my behalf, and Scott is always gracious. I invited him to hold me accountable in this area. Whenever he sees me pull the dominate card, he has permission to remind me that it’s “his job”. That conversation raised our relationship and trust to a new level (at least in my opinion…); it gives the Mechanic the freedom to hold me accountable in how I view and respect his role, and allows me to step back and trust him more. I know that after that conversation, if he is ever stuck or in need of help that he can invite me in and trust that I won’t just take over.
It can be like that in our day to day. Lost tools, dents in the truck, or running a little late in the morning. Humility and honesty goes a lot farther than excuses. Trust each other a little more and invite your coworkers to examine your work and habits and to help identify areas that need strengthening. Trust me- you lead in this way and the culture in your workplace will change.
But keep in mind- the system only works if your staff is “all in”, and the ones who aren’t will stand out like a dandelion on your campus green on graduation day. The hope is always that extending trust and humility will result in reciprocation- but human nature says that isn’t always the case. By holding up a higher standard of accountability you will also open a clearly defined path of behavioral expectations, ethics and morals at work- if some on your staff aren’t up to the challenge than perhaps the disciplinary or honest evaluation route is the only course of action. Accountability from you will raise the bar of expectations in your staff and will expose your low performers quickly and easily. Be patient but unyielding, identify chronic shortfalls and bad habits quickly and with documentation. Accountability isn’t about being soft or being taken advantage of, it’s about calling your staff to a higher level of being “all in”.
What do leaders do? They lead. They go first. Which means that humility and accountability begin with you. Perhaps there are some conversations that you need to have, or perhaps you have not managed well and need to make some corrections or apologies. Perhaps there is an official “Verbal Warning” that needs to be documented so that your staff can see that you are serious about changing the culture. Maybe there are ways tomorrow that you can engage and encourage your staff and invite them into something better.
It starts with you.