+44 (0) 7983 590555 steven@stevenpaul.info

At the latest divisional board management meeting, the latest sales numbers and projections were on target from the prior quarter, but not to the expectations of the ambitious Divisional Head of the software company – Dexter. Dexter blamed marketing and the performance from his employees and executives as the reason for not exceeding the targets.  He menacingly told them meeting targets was not enough – they must improve their work or the company would not be able to sustain. The executive team didn’t just sit there and take it all in. Everyone started defending themselves in a reactionary debate.  Despite this, Dexter, who was a tough and an intelligent leader, just started giving marching orders. He was not in the least disturbed by the looks and body language of his executives, who sat slumped in their chairs, their looks ranging from fear and anger to disinterest.

These types of scenarios are not uncommon. Exhibiting courage is not about being more vocal, being the loudest nor is it about being in the limelight always. It takes a lot more to be a courageous accountable leader and even a better one to build and instill culture of courageousness and accountability in the organization.

Assessing and Acting Objectively

 Stepping back and assessing objectively at the current situation of the firm is key. This can be difficult as many leaders tend to get into reactionary mode when things don’t go according to their expectations. In this case, Dexter saw that his company was not performing enough, but failed to see that his own leadership is a key reason why the firm’s division was in that state.  If he had been aware and admitted to his own shortcomings, encouraged collective accountability on the divisional performance, it’s likely his executives would not have been defensive, disinterested or shown fear.

 Seeking feedback, listening, and having candid or even uncomfortable conversations is key especially during challenging times. This is not the time to shy away but rather to be visibly responsive and to take actionable steps. Some leaders feel that they should have all of the answers and that they should be doing all of the talking at meetings.  Unfortunately, this usually leads to next level seniors and employees feeling left out, which can lead to disinterest, fear, and confusion. Similarly, a leader doesn’t always know the inner workings of an initiative, nor of any tension or all the issues between colleagues in the office. In these instances, the power of all works wonders. They responsibility does not lie on just one person, but the collective.

 If Dexter had asked for open collective dialogue and input, or set up the environment for candid conversations to occur, he likely would have learned of the challenges or new ideas his executives were having well in advance.

 Creating the Environment to Instill Courageousness and Shared Ownership

 In 40% of companies, leaders are unprepared to meet the business issues they will face over the next several years [Right Management’s 2013 – Most Likely to Lead report].  Many leaders are not prepared to handle the faster, more-involved business climate that has occurred over the last several years.

 Many leaders today are still struggling with giving ownership to their executives and employees on business goals. Leaders may think they are giving ownership, but in reality, they actually still control. In fact, many of them still think they have the answers and should just dictate how things should be done instead of allowing their executives and employees to have some creative freedom to achieve the firm’s goals.

In this scenario, Dexter should allow his employees and executives more input into the creative process. The chances are high that their work would result even with higher targets.  If employees are more engaged in the creative process, they take a more active interest in what they are working on, which almost always leads to better results. Establishing simple face to face, voice-only collaborative mechanisms and even social media to connect and engage with the workforce is critical. It doesn’t end there though; being decisive and taking bold actions make a difference.

Blaming others or the environment isn’t productive either. When leaders or employees fall short of their goals, accepting the good and bad outcomes and taking responsibility in a transparent manner shows courage. Whilst leadership competency frameworks and firm’s values provide a supporting mechanism to build and measure, leaders who show by example goes a long way in instilling the behaviors of courage, tenacity and accountability.

 In Summary: 

Leaders always face challenging situations, and there are opportunities to turn things around to demonstrate courage and accountability. As a leader in any role you undertake, evaluate your own situation and leverage some tactics as follows: Demonstrate restraint when matters ‘blow up’ – understand the issues carefully, whilst dealing with them head-on. Communicate and connect with employees to inspire. Be a model and take accountability, whilst also handing over authority and freedom to others to take shared responsibility. Promote a culture of courage that is aligned with yours and the firm’s values – showing how to step out the comfort zone or status quo, to take action and to take risks. Build support mechanisms for people to spring back from setbacks. Lead the transformational change on establishing courageous behaviors.

Find those few key courageous leaders in the organization that demonstrate this and work with them – it will be a less complex journey as you demonstrate your own courageousness.