8 Ways to Help Leaders Keep Their Job
A recent Strategy & Business article – Are CEOs Less Ethical Than in the Past? – highlights a significant change in the level of accountability expected of CEOs. Over the past 20 years, there are a number of factors causing CEOs to not only be dismissed for ethical lapses, but also be charged with criminal indictments. In addition, financial penalties to companies have skyrocketed from millions to billions of dollars.
According to the authors of this article, the driving factors for this change include:
- Rapid erosion of public confidence and trust in large companies and their CEOs.
- New governance and regulatory requirements, due to heightened public skepticism.
- Dramatic increase in threats faced by companies in the normal course of business.
- New ways to experience ethical lapses, thanks to digital (i.e. emails, texting, tweets).
- Changing nature of media and the speed in which information is shared
In one of my posts from last year, I talked about The Leadership Challenge with Accountability, and the difficult role leaders have in holding others accountable. In an effort to help, I referenced some insightful thoughts from Stephen Covey and Patrick Lencioni.
But how can leaders live up to the increasing pressure of personal accountability?
Interestingly, I also wrote an article on 8 Ways to Raise the Bar on Being Responsible (a synonym for being accountable). Being accountable / responsible requires continual check-ins to ensure a leader remains on the right side of potential ethical issues.
I think this list is worth publishing again, maybe this time with a more relevant title.
8 Ways to Help Leaders Keep Their Job (and out of jail)
To help keep their job, here are 8 things all leaders should be doing.
- Set clear goals.Amazing things begin to happen when everyone understands who needs to do what by when, and most importantly WHY. It’s about creating a shared understanding of expected results or goals and the benefits anticipated from achieving them. To keep everyone focused on the right priorities along the journey, goals need to be clearly defined and articulated – often.
- Be open to new ideas.While being responsible is about following through on a commitment, it shouldn’t limit the creativity on HOW things get done. There’s good reason for the proverb: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Don’t just be open to new ideas, seek them out. Responsibility demands we solve old problems in new ways (and vice versa).
- Determine limits.There are always elements outside of a leader’s control. Being responsible is about doing everything within their power on that which is under their control. Leaders also need to be aware of false responsibility, assuming responsibility for something (or someone) that’s not part of their leadership mandate. But responsible leaders always look beyond their immediate area of responsibility at what’s in the best interest of the organization (going back to setting clear goals).
- Start small.Great responsibility comes with building momentum. By achieving success with a few, smaller tasks, competence is proven and confidence builds. This generates positive enthusiasm and energy to move to bigger tasks. Over time, areas of opportunity and responsibility expand. This applies to individuals, groups, leaders, and the organization as a whole.
- Be consistent.Responsibility has no legs without predictability. The reason for setting up defined processes and encouraging routines, and why standards exist, is to create predictable outcomes. To be responsible for something means others can reliably know what to expect, when, how, and where it was promised.
- Seek feedback.Every leader and their organization have blind spots, those negative (and goal threatening) elements only visible to others. By proactively seeking feedback from others, inside and outside the organization, it’s possible to reduce and even eradicate blind spots BEFORE they surface or become major issues. Responsibility also means being open to constructive criticism. It might be unpleasant to receive (at first), but treating feedback as gold is the best why to improve on responsibility.
- Put relationships over results.The focus may be on delivering expected results, but if the road to the goal is strewn with “dead bodies” then any sense of responsibility has been abandoned. Every journey to a goal includes hard choices. Being responsible means weighing the impact of decisions on relationships vs. results. Thankfully, this is rarely an either/or question. Responsibility is about looking at how to achieve agreed-upon goals while preserving relationships.
- Remain humble.Mistakes will happen. Deadlines will be missed. Unforeseen problems will arise. Egos will get bruised. If at all possible, avoid the blame game. Being responsible includes acknowledging failure, and even more importantly, learning how to forgive. A little humility goes along way to learning how to forgive others, and ourselves. This in turn earns the trust and respect of others to have another opportunity to be responsible.
Of interest, there is not a single reference to ethics or integrity here. That’s because if leaders remain focused on doing the right things, the right things get done. This is the best way to keep a job (and stay out of jail).
Bottom line: If a leader wants to help their company achieve the desired results, and keep their job, they need to hold themselves accountable to the things they should be doing.