I am fortunate, I think, to work for a company that takes accountability very seriously. As a mid-level manager, accountability is a large part of my job. And yet, it is something that took me many years to truly understand – and an issue that I see many of my peers struggle with as they try to achieve the results expected of them in their job.
My own sense of accountability in the workplace came from my first real job out of high school, with the Fountain County Sheriff’s Department. During my tenure there, a deputy was suspended for five days without pay for not following proper procedures that had been laid down by the Sheriff. It was a tough punishment, but one that the Sheriff clearly felt was required given the infraction.
When I first became a manager in 1995 in Columbus, Indiana – accountability wasn’t my strong point. It’s easy in most cases to sit down and talk with someone about an ethical issue – theft, fraud, sexual harassment, etc. The issues are clear cut – and almost everyone realizes that this behavior is wrong. It’s far more difficult to sit down with someone, look them in the eye, and talk with them directly about their shortcomings as an employee – or as a manager. And took me years to both fully understand – and to develop the self-confidence and courage needed to do it effectively.
And there’s still room to grow.
I’ve been promoted a few times since then – and I’ve learned that the stakes are higher the farther you move up the chain. In my current role, if I sit down with a direct report and talk with them about their performance – I’m no longer dealing with an entry level hourly employee – I’m talking to a mother or a father – someone with years invested in this corporation – and who is likely the breadwinner for their family. Most of my team owns a home. Almost all of them are married – and half of them have children. Dealing with someone’s lack of performance now could result in a serious issue for many people.
The counterbalance though, of course, is that it must be done. The great leaders on a team want the team to be held accountable – because they’re only as good as the weakest link on the team. They want to be held to a high standard – but more important – they want to win. And to do that, they want only the best as a part of their peer group.. their team.
And it’s my job to help create that environment for them.
And unfortunately, that means sometimes I have to fire people. It’s not fun… in fact, I hate it. But I do it.
But like Lex, I take it as a personal failure. Particularly if I brought them into this company. It means I made a bad hire, I did a bad job with their training, a bad job coaching and mentoring them along, a bad job developing them, a bad job supporting them, or just a bad job leading them.. or some combination of these…
I originally had something in mind on how to end this entry, but in the midst of everything else I had going on tonight, I can’t remember what that was.. so we’ll end things here.. Accountability is a key part of being a leader – but it requires appropriate self-confidence and some courage to be willing to do the right thing.