The Leader’s Accountability Dilemma

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Leaders get paid to make decisions and take accountability for the ultimate results.  Not everyone is cut out for positions with high results standards.

In business, the ultimate scorecard is the P&L.

The $’s that hit the bottom line in relation to what was agreed to as success is one of the most challenging results areas to be accountable for.  Too many things can happen; many are out of a leader’s immediate control that makes achieving a profit objective challenging.  The list can be long, but falls into 2 sections….

Top Line Areas (Revenue)

  • Sales/Marketing over-run on budgets and not realize the incremental sales needed…
  • The consumers did not respond to the can’t miss innovation of the year….
  • Mix of product sales were off expectations, too hard to forecast!

Middle Of The P&L Areas (Costs)

  • Commodity costs spiked fast, too fast to react to pricing…
  • Manufacturing can have quality defects, cost over-runs, excessive over-time in the factories…

And on and on it goes……..top line, middle area of P&L all combine to make bottom line achievement challenging

It’s the Accountability Dilemma:  Being accountable to an outcome with limited control over it.

The challenge for the Leader?  Inspiring the team to focus on what CAN be controlled vs what can NOT be influenced for a positive outcome.

A couple of tools I’ve come to utilize to recognize and deal with the Accountability Dilemma:

1) Fast Recognition Alert:  “Antennas Up” when I hear the following phrases, combined with frustration

  • Why do THEY…..
  • Why DID they…..

“THEY” equals somebody else, some other function.  

“DID” equals the past.

Both words are more uncontrollable than controllable.

The PAST can never be changed (only learned from).  There is comfort in the past when outcomes are certain, and everyone’s smarter in the rear view mirror vs. the windshield.

THEY, is somebody else, and rarely is the person’s house (“I”) completely in order to have the luxury to be consumed with THEY.

2)  Primary Tool To Shift The Conversation:  The Mirror Test

Have YOU done everything in your power relative to maximizing the outcome?  If the answer is “YES” that’s great!  But ask them to walk through why they think it’s so.  LISTEN

The mirror

The Leadership Mirror Test

One’s view of their personal performance may be inflated, that’s natural.  But when you probe, ask them for their view and listen, rarely will you walk away without learning something.

  • What’s your view of the situation?  What’s your role in it?
  • Is that all?  What areas could you be missing?
  • What would YOU do if you were in charge?
  • What would be the outcome of implementing that?

The answers will tell you tons about the person’s view of the world, problem solving capabilities and overall solution perspective.  It moves the conversation to they (out of control) to ME (in my control).  That’s the start of dealing with the Accountability Dilemma.

We have all see the stereo-typical “egomaniac”…..that also happens to be in a leadership position.  They talk first, listen, well SOMETIMES.  Reminds me of Dr. Evil, whose idea of inspiring collaboration was a dramatic use of the air quotes.  The accountability dilemma does not go away without collaboration

Dr. Evil Egomaniac

Dr. Evil, Not The Collaborative Version of a Leader

Wrestling with the accountability dilemma can consume the majority of a leader’s time.  That is OK, if progress is being made daily where people work on moving the needle in their sphere of influence.  But PROGRESS is needed, not inertia.

Inspiring people to feel central to better outcomes is crucial.

When faced with The Accountability Dilemma, employ the Mirror Test.

Ask Questions.  Get the facts.  Listen.  Get your hands dirty with people struggling with it.

Leadership, by its very nature is a contact sport.

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