Pursue What Matters
Episode 66: Sweet Spot of Accountability
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Accountability is such a challenging issue in leadership. How do you know when you’ve got enough? How do you know when there’s too much? Today we’re talking about the sweet spot of accountability with those you lead?
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:19
I am Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the pursue what matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Today, we are talking about accountability. And boy, this is a challenging issue when it comes to life and leadership. You know, we in a perfect world, right? Like everyone can be accountable for themselves. And, you know, everything goes really smoothly. And it’s awesome. But I don’t know about you, but I don’t think any of us live in that world. Definitely not in 2020. We don’t live in that world. But today, I want to talk about finding the sweet spot of accountability with those you lead so that they have room to do their best work without being micromanaged. But still have really great support and guidance without feeling like they’re flailing without any, without any support. And it can be a really fine balance. And I also have a really great resource to help you take action and find that sweet spot of accountability. Because here’s the thing, and this is this is I think, the real challenge when it comes to accountability. If you are leading a team of individuals, they their needs are different. And so you know where one individual needs more accountability or more guidance or more support another team member, that accountability is going to look very different. And so I’m hoping that I can give you some guardrails and some some principles that can help guide your efforts. So that you know you’re not doing a one size fits all right, let’s think about Goldilocks, not too little, not too much. But that you’re not providing a one size fits all accountability, but that you can really pay attention to what are the needs of each individual. What makes sense, and so that it’s not crazy making for you, as a leader. This, by the way, has total application to leadership at home. And so if you are listening, and you’re thinking I don’t lead anyone, you got to listen up, because first of all, we’re all leaders wherever we are. So even if you don’t have direct management responsibility over someone at work, there are ways that we’re always sharing and working with accountability with colleagues and those that we collaborate with. And also in the home accountability is such an ever present issue, whether it’s with kiddos, whether it’s with partners, whether it’s with friends, and loved ones. And so I hope that you will listen up. And I hope that the principles that I’m going to talk about today can be helpful for you. And of course, again, I have a really useful resource to help you take action to find your sweet spot of accountability. So with that, let’s jump in. So let’s first of all think about accountability, and what that means in terms of leadership. So when I think about accountability, I really think about the leaders ability to to establish appropriate guidelines such that the team members can exercise individual responsibility. And that that can lead to substantial contributions to objectives, to goals and ultimately to vision, right. So we think about organizational vision, we think about team vision. And so the leader has a unique role in that process. So the leader needs to set up the framework for accountability. And that framework is what allows the team members the space and the room to exercise individual responsibility, and to help those team members to really provide and contribute at their highest level, and to contribute meaningfully to, you know, the overall objectives and goals and ultimately, vision of the team of the organization. And so it’s really important that the leader is able to give team members what they need to successfully contribute. And so when we think about accountability, I really want you to kind of imagine the leader as a navigator. So the NGO leader, you know, think about a map, you think about a leader as a navigator and kind of showing the way and everyone is on that journey. And that the leader has a unique responsibility in that process. So when I think about accountability, I think about it on a continuum. And you know, if you download the resource, I have this, I have this image for you. So you can, you can take a look at it. But I picture and accountability continuum. And on one end of that continuum is lack of support. And on the other end of that continuum is micromanagement. And in the middle of that continuum, so the sweet spot of accountability is autonomy, and focus. And so let’s, let’s look at those in a little greater detail. So first, on the one end of that continuum, we have a lack of support. So let’s think about what’s happening on that end
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:53
of the continuum. So team members struggle to make decisions on their own. So this is kind of from the perspective of the leader. So once a project is identified, I, as a leader provide very little oversight. Team members have difficulty identifying the next step in a project. My team members have very little skin in the game. So they’re there, they’re working on a project, but they don’t seem to have ownership over a project, they’re just don’t have enough skin in the game, there tends to be very little creativity on the team. And I often have to cajole team members to take on a project. So people don’t, don’t volunteer, they don’t step up. They don’t say, Hey, I’ll take the lead on this. So as a leader, I have to cajole team members to to step it up, or to take the lead on projects. So those are some of the characteristics those are some of the behaviors that we would see on this end of the continuum of lack of support. Okay, so some of the dangers of this end of the continuum, the lack of support, is, first of all, you know, team members, obviously don’t get the support that they need. Team members don’t develop confidence. And that’s a big one. And team members go rogue. Right? So there’s just like, they go rogue, there’s radio silence, you don’t know what the heck is going on with them. Projects go off the rails. So projects can really derail, because you don’t know what’s going on, things don’t get done. Culture is undermined. And external rewards are often required to get things done. So you got to have a lot of carrots to get things done. So those are some of the dangers of this end of the continuum when we think about lack of support.
Unknown Speaker 9:17
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:18
So of course, that’s that’s not great. We don’t we don’t want, we don’t want that happening. So now let’s take a look at the other end of the continuum, which is micromanagement. So we just talked about lack of support. So we kind of have a year that’s a little bit Mia. And then the other end of the continuum is micromanagement. So this let me let me describe what’s happening over here. And this is again from the perspective of the leader. So I often have to follow up to ensure Sure our tasks are completed, team members struggle making decisions on their own. Now, you might recognize some of these are the same as lack of support. So that’s very interesting. But pay attention, right, because opposite ends of the extreme, but some of the same dynamic happening, which I’ll talk about in a minute. So team members struggle making decisions on their own. Without my direction, team members seem to lose focus, I make most team decisions. My team members have very little skin in the game. There’s very little creativity on my team, we spend a lot of time in meetings, discussing the status of projects. So that’s some of what’s happening on this and of the continuum. And the dangers of micromanage of micromanagement include, that the leader fails to develop the skills of those that they lead. Ultimately, this is a failure of leadership. Because right, like you’re not developing those you lead, and it leaves those you lead dependent on you, which is not good, not good at all. If you need to feel needed. This is awesome. But it’s a horrible way to lead. Because basically, you’re, you know, everything has to go through you. And it’s incredibly inefficient. It leaves those you lead, so it leaves your team members feeling frustrated and incompetent. And it sends the message that you as a leader, see your team members as incapable and trustworthy or worse. So really not not a good dynamic there. And so why might we see that on opposite ends of the continuum, where we have lack of support? And then micromanagement right, like very different behaviors? Why might we have team members feeling the same way? Because the behaviors of the leader are very different lack of support versus micromanagement, but we have sometimes team members feeling the same way. And part of that is because, you know, the underlying message is one of distrust. So micromanagement sends that the way that that distrust message is sent is different. But that message of distrust is the same. So when it comes to micromanagement, the way that the message of distrust is sent is
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:10
the the message from the leader basically is I don’t trust you to do a good job. So I have to do it all myself, or I have to follow up on every little thing you do, because I don’t trust you to do a good job. Okay. And the way that lack of trust comes across and lack of support is through a leader appearing not to care enough. So because the because the leader isn’t checking in, because the leader is not providing guidance, the message is, I don’t care enough to provide you the guidance, I don’t care enough to provide you the time, and the training, and the direction that you need. So team members don’t know that they matter. And they don’t know that they’re worth their leaders time. And that, of course, can be really disastrous. So now let’s talk about the sweet spot in the middle of the continuum. And before I get into that, I just want to be really clear that these are the perceptions that come across. And I’m not saying that a leader who does not provide enough support, doesn’t care about their team members. But what I am saying is that is the risk that they run is that their team members don’t know that they care. Because they’re not providing the support that they need to I’m not saying that the leader doesn’t care. But if you’re not providing the guidance and the accountability that your team members need, right You may be sending the message that you don’t care. And that’s why it’s so important to understand this and to, and to actually move to that sweet spot of accountability so that your people get what they need. Because my guess is you do care. My guess is you you care deeply. But you, you might not always know what your people need. And some people need more guidance, and some people need less guidance. And, and so this is why we want to look at this and pay attention to it. And so perceptions are really powerful. And so that’s why it’s really important to kind of look at what’s going on beneath the surface. Because when we’re not looking at it, and we’re not having conversations, and we’re not giving feedback, these perceptions are ruling the day. And they’re undermining culture. They’re undermining our work. They’re hampering our goal completion and our culture. So that’s so I’m not saying that leaders don’t care. If they’re not providing enough support. I’m not saying that leaders don’t trust, if they’re micromanaging. I’m saying this is the potential message that team members are receiving or feeling. And so this is why we want to address it, because we don’t want that getting in the way. Okay, so now let’s talk about that sweet spot in the middle of the continuum, which is autonomy and focus. So team members contribute to projects in meaningful ways. Team members have several hours of protected time each week to focus on task completion. My team meetings are highly effective. That’s awesome. I mean, if everyone could say that, even like 75% of the time, wouldn’t that be awesome? That’s pretty. That’s, you know, that’s a pretty high standard. Team members regularly volunteer to take on project tasks. So I think the key there is that people are proactive, they feel a sense of ownership, they’re willing to step it up.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:17
The the leaders ability to instill accountability such that team members take personal responsibility for Team goals. So people have skin in the game, team members are able to contribute in personally meaningful ways that move the entire team forward. So people make contributions. And they see that their contributions count, they see that their contributions help the whole team, the biggest fear, at work is irrelevance. So think about how important it is to see that you that what you do matters, and that what you do helps the rest of the team. It’s so incredibly important. Team members have what they need to successfully contribute, whether that is in emotional support, whether that is in guidance, whether that is in specific trainings and learning whether that is in protected time. Whether that isn’t You know what, we’re not going to have any meetings on Fridays, so that you can do so that you can work on this project. Right, so team members have what they need to successfully contribute.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:37
So that is the sweet spot in the middle. So now let’s help you take action and look at solutions. And in keeping with our imagery of the continuum, I really first want to think about, you know, if you’re on that far end of the continuum, where there is lack of support, I want you to think about taking action and moving that needle more towards the middle. And the good news about this is, you know, depending on the team member, you can really have a conversation about with the individual employee about Tell me tell me where you’re at, on this. Tell me tell me how you’re feeling in terms of support. And you too, could just have a conversation about what is needed. And you know, with some with some team members, you might need to move that needle more than you do with other team members. So you can really individualize it and you can really tailor it to the needs of each team member because of course each team member is unique, and some team members are going to need more guidance. than others. And that’s just a fact of life. That’s a fact of individual differences. And also, it’s a fact of different projects. And so that’s what I like about the continuum and taking action and moving the needle. Because for you, as a leader, you don’t have to absolutely remake your leadership for every person that you lead. But you can really think it, think about it in terms of nuance, and thinking about, like, what does that needle look like? And so with the resource, again, I have that imagery, I have specific suggestions for how you can take action. And I think what I would encourage you to do is to have a conversation with each team member and look at, okay, what, where, where do you think you’re at, and, you know, actually even have an assessment on this where, you know, they can assess themselves, and actually look at, okay, what from this list could be helpful to you in, in terms of support and accountability. And so it’s not, it’s not about remaking your leadership for everyone that you lead, but it’s really more about nuance. And so let’s look at how you can take action and move the needle from lack of support towards more autonomy and focus. So here are some ideas. So first of all, you could assign individual team members specific responsibilities. And then of course, follow up on progress concerns and needs. And you know, that could be done in weekly meeting, or just check in, establish regular status meetings to track team progress, ask how can I better support your progress, and then do it. So this is where accountability for you as a leader is really, really important as well. You can clear blocks for your team, so advocate upstream where you can, you can also advocate downstream for your team, you can engage team members in creative collaboration, and watch for sparks of interest. So where do they get excited? And how can you follow up on those threads? And then of course, incorporating suggestions,
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:26
that’s a really big one. So you know, are they providing ideas that never ever, ever get followed up on. And so really doing what you can to incorporate their suggestions, we really, we really need to nurture that, especially when, and if they do not feel supported, because that’s, that becomes toxic over time. So there are some suggestions for taking action and moving the needle from lack of support towards more autonomy and focus. And then let’s think about the other end of that continuum. So micromanagement, and we want to take action and move the needle towards more autonomy and focus. So you can provide clear direction, and then get out of the way. So you really do want to have some clear process frameworks in place, you want to have clear job descriptions in place. So there’s clarity about what’s expected. So clear direction, clear frameworks, clear processes, but then you get out of Dodge, get out of the way. and utilize status meetings for updates, and resist the urge to intervene in between these meetings. And you’re probably just going to have to bite your tongue, you’re going to have to keep yourself off a slack, keep yourself off of email, resist the urge to check in during these meetings. And you might just have to remind yourself, I’m going to let them check in first. So that might be a good little reminder for yourself. Maybe you have a little sticky note on your computer to remind yourself to say, Do I really need to check in on this project? You can also ask yourself, what is driving my need to check in on this project right now? So is it your fear? Is it your anxiety? Is it your perfectionism? Or is it a legitimate need related to the project, and so do your own work as a leader first, before you put that on those you need, you can also make yourself slightly less available. So team members are pushed to collaborate with one another, and making and and push to make decisions independently. That can be very, very effective. So that’s a that’s a good one. To pay attention to. And don’t punish team members for making independent decisions, because that’s some of the behavior that you want to reward. Provide dedicated time each week for team members to work on projects, free of interruptions, including by you. And then use meetings to push forward project agendas by enlisting collaboration by all team members. So the way that you structure team meetings can make a really big difference here. So that can that can be really helpful. And then limit the number of decisions you are making as a leader. So divvy up responsibility. I think another big one on this is, as a leader, resist the urge to speak first in meetings. That’s a big one. Because as a leader, your voice just carries so much weight in a meeting, and so if you speak up first, you’re just going, you’re just going to shut down conversation.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:11
Because you know, whether you like it or not, you’re the decision maker. And so resist the urge to speak up first, so that you can make room for collaboration. And the idea, the ideas to flourish in the in the meeting. And that can be really helpful, especially as we’re working on helping them to invest and to collaborate, and to get away from your micromanagement. So that can be really very helpful. Okay, so the thing to remember is that, you know, accountability is so essential for the success of projects, the success of your team, the success of your organization, and accountability really supports an effective culture. And so I have a good resource to help you take action to find your sweet spot of accountability. And you don’t need to remake your leadership for every individual team member. But you can take action and really tailor your leadership to the unique needs of those you lead. So head on over to my website to check out the show notes and to find this resource for the episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-66 one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-66. And boy, accountability is a hard one. But it’s also so great when you can, you know, when you’re when those you lead, get what they need, and can contribute at their highest level. It’s just such a beautiful place to be in leadership.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:08
And as a team, it’s just like, it’s just everyone’s working great. It really is a sweet spot. So it’s exciting. It’s exciting work. And you know, just as a reminder, I’m on iTunes, I’m on Spotify, you can find me there. I’m also on Instagram and totally social, social. And so I’d love to connect with you there. And if you don’t mind taking a minute and leaving me a review the reviews really help people to find me. And so I would so appreciate it if you take time to leave a review. And again, you can you can head on over to the website to find the resource. Take action to find your sweet spot of accountability at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-66 I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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