Triple "A" Leadership; Touchstones from the Sea; Awareness – Part 3

In Parts I and II of Triple “A” Leadership, two “touchstones” were discussed that I believe are important to effectively lead.  The first was AWARENESS; the second was ALIGNMENT.  This issue of the Psychology for Business newsletter is the last of the series and will discuss ACCOUNTABILITY

Let’s go back to the sea one last time to gather another example of leadership touchstones using a maritime analogy.  Once again you are the captain of a sailing vessel (leader of an organization) embarking on an important voyage.   A useful principle to help assure success is the concept of accountability

If you, as the captain, expect certain tasks to be accomplished by members of the crew (your employees), and they fail to do so, disaster can occur.  If it is someone’s job to bring fresh water or desalination equipment along and they forget, or only bring half empty containers, the ship won’t reach its destination; the voyage will be a failure.  If it is someone’s job to inspect the sails to assure that they are in good repair and they choose to neglect this task, again the ship could be at risk. 

Is it the captain’s job to always check everything to assure a successful voyage?  Well, if the ship is very small with no crew, the answer is “yes”.  However, if the ship is of any size, the captain needs to develop an effective process of delegation. This leads directly to the issue of trust.   

For a captain to be effective, they must be able to delegate some of the tasks required for voyage preparation.  For a captain to feel comfortable delegating important tasks, they must trust the crewmember that they are enlisting to accomplish the task.  If the task is accomplished in a timely and complete manner, trust is enhanced and more responsibility is given.  The captain can effectively mentor future captains by delegating increasingly important, complex responsibilities, enhancing the trust relationship and the commitment level of the crewmember.  The inability to ever trust anyone dooms effective leadership.  A weak captain resists delegation, fearing the mentee will outshine the mentor.  This selfish mentality will undermine both the captain and the ship. 
If, however, the crewmember fails to accomplish the task or completes it in a “half-mast” manner, trust is frayed or betrayed, leading to a decreased level of responsibility entrusted by the captain.  If poor performance with a delegated responsibility happens often enough, the captain needs to acknowledge that the crew member cannot be trusted with responsibility and in order for the voyage to be successful and in the best interest of the rest of the crew, that person needs to leave the crew and their delegated responsibilities need to be met in another manner.

It is an important part of being an effective captain that after a crewmember is given adequate training, explanations and opportunities to perform and they still fail, the courage to cut the crewmember loose is imperative.  As a leader, you are sending important messages to others if you fail to hold your reports accountable for their performance.  By keeping non-performers around you are giving important messages to others regarding your tolerance of poor performance and that retained employment is based on things other than performance. 

It is also important to note that by holding employees accountable you can enhance their belief in themselves and their capabilities.  You can encourage continuous improvement in an employee’s performance by collaboratively setting measurable goals for their performance, holding them accountable for goal achievement in a specified time period and rewarding them for successful completion of the goals.  If they fail to achieve a desired goal, revisit it with them in a collaborative, non-judgmental manner to assess why the goal was not met.  Many times it is not due to lack of effort; it could be due to a lack of adequate resources; a lack of accessing adequate resources; a lack of training; a lack of clarity; et cetera. The failure is not in missing achievement of the desired goal.  It could be a failure, however, to not clearly identify why the goal was missed. 

If you notice a consistent lack of effort at goal achievement, it may be due to a misalignment between job responsibilities and the individual’s interests, skills or abilities or some other motivational deficit.   This situation, as stated earlier, may warrant letting the employee go.  Reasonable developmental enhancements (i.e. training, coaching, therapy, et cetera) can work in some cases, however, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and a wise leader needs to know the difference. 

How does the concept of accountability apply to the captain of the ship? 
Ultimately the captain is responsible for all activities related to completing a successful voyage.  The captain is accountable to the crew (employees), the ship’s owner (stockholders) and, most importantly, to themselves.  On all but the smallest of ships, this is impossible without appropriate delegation of duties.  Therefore it is incumbent upon the captain to clear obstacles that may prevent successful performance of delegated duties.  If the captain has awareness of the state of his/her ship and crew and has created a culture valuing alignment of crewmembers and their activities, then they will have knowledge of how they can enable the crew to be successful. 

As stated above, it is most important that the captains be accountable to themselves.  In this series of three articles on “TRIPLE “A” LEADERSHIP” the case has been made for effective leaders to develop personal “touchstones” to guide their performance.  When all is said and done, a leader must be accountable to themselves for their own performance.  There are many paths to success as a leader.  What guides you may be unique to your own circumstance and history.  Are you going to leave your voyage up to chance?  You may be successful.  However, you may miss out on the chance to maximize your potential and lead your organization to currently unimagined success.  The difference may rest on basing your leadership activities on principles that reflect the sum of your conscious and unconscious knowledge; your “touchstones” of leadership.  I have suggested three that have proven to be important in my work with leaders. 




I challenge you to have the courage and to take the time to determine what you know your organization needs to thrive.  



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