Bravery and Accountability in Leadership

Lack of accountability in organizations is one of the top 5 toxic and cascading behaviors. Leadership is all about accountability to results, people, and the company as a whole. When leaders struggle taking ownership over issues under their umbrella, it not only makes them look weak, but it also exposes deficit in character. Being accountable takes heart and bravery especially when things aren’t going in your favor, yet it shows strength in leadership abilities.

It is human nature, when backed up against the wall, to scurry around an issue and find reasons that softens the fact that the problem, staring you right in the face, happened on your watch. I have studied this behavior, and where possible, I attempt to call it out with the individual scurrying to deflect blame onto others, their circumstances, or management. Deflecting or minimizing the cause of the crisis is not the best laid plan as a leader. I see it often where management actually blames those they manage for the delay or the ball drop, and set them squarely in front of the proverbial bus quickly barreling down the road, called upper management.  All the while, somehow forgetting, all of the people who are involved in the problem and perhaps the cause of the crisis, report to you. You are their Manager. Newsflash, that makes you the owner of the issue!  Ownership and accountability takes bravery and maturity and it isn’t natural for everyone, however it is a necessity when you are leading a charge for your organization. Do not place blame on the people you manage as the primary source of an issue. It is an incredibly bad look and one that will not garner you any support from those that report to you or that of your manager. At the end of the day, you likely could have and should have been managing differently or tighter. When confronted with issues that resides under your area of responsibility be ready to discuss symptoms of the issue and diagnosis to fix, but stand up and take accountability for what you own.

I have witnessed some fantastic examples of lack of bravery in accountability. These are some of the milder ones, but may strike some familiarity:

  1. “I have been asking the team to do this forever”
  2. “This is just a small impact to the business, why are we over inflating this?”
  3. “This was a bad hire from previous management”

When you identify a leader who is not being accountable to the outcome, what do you do? My recommendation is stop it in its tracks immediately. The antidote to deflection strategies and lack of accountability may sound a little like this (aligning with numbered items above):

  1. “It sounds like you have been asking the team to handle this for a long while. What is it about your approach as a leader that is preventing you from getting the results from the team? Are you holding them accountable to deadlines and outcomes? What is your plan to resolve this issue?”
  2. “From your vantage point this may be small, but there are other things you may not be considering. Being passive that this issue is small may prevent you from diving in and uncovering if you have a people or process issue that is leading to bigger issues down the road. What is your plan to make sure that this is not missed again?”
  3. “What steps have you taken to coach this individual since they now report to you? What is your plan to ensure your team members, regardless of who hired them have full buy in and are on board with your expectations?”

If you let your leaders buy into their own propaganda surrounding where they are or are not accountable, it will be difficult for them to admit there are issues to resolve and that they are responsible for resolving them. Not addressing the behavior will allow the issues to continue, cost you money, time, and frustration. Push accountability and call for action. Once you begin pushing back on those behaviors and help your leaders recognize their own responsibility by not allowing them to deflect blame, the less noise you will hear, the faster the issues will be resolved, the more accountable the individual becomes. Accountability leads to execution for the business and it is the behavior you want to cultivate and drive as a part of the DNA of your organization.

If you are a leader in your organization and you are reading this and it is resonating with you because you have been a deflector of blame or have demonstrated a lack of accountability for items that land squarely in your lane or on your watch, then I offer this recommendation: Stop spending your energy twisting up the story and blurring lines of accountability. Words like, “I’m sorry, this is on me”, “I dropped the ball here”, become strong statements and they demonstrate bravery, leadership and respect for your leader and your team members. Spend all of your energy resolving the issue and learning from the situation.

If you are a leader and are experiencing a lack of accountability from your management team, address it with bold conversations. Set the tone for your expectations and be clear about who owns the resolution of the issue. 

Brave responses may sound like this:

  1. “I’m sorry, this has been on my mind for a while and I failed to put this process into practice. Here is what I am committing to doing by next week to resolve this issue go forward.”
  2. “It looks like the impact is small, but there is an issue I need to dig deeper into. This is on me, I will make sure I figure out what is happening and will get back to you tomorrow.”
  3. “This was my miss, I need to spend more time vetting the legacy management team and give a comprehensive review of where we have gaps. For now, I will address with the manager and reset expectations so we can move past this.”

Think about rewarding those who take accountability in your organization, “I appreciate that you immediately took ownership of that issue and came with a solution, keep me posted on progress.” 

Be Brave. Be Accountable.

Expect to be Uncomfortable- Navigating the New

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Change is hard. There is nothing surprising in that statement. I’ve recently switched careers and no matter how much you can prepare yourself for the variances that come with a change like that, it certainly comes with a number of dynamics that may throw you off your A game. It’s funny, months before my own leap of faith, I found myself counseling a friend who had recently moved to a different company. He was describing to me the “fish out of water” feeling, being a stranger to everyone, missing his friends and body of work. He had been engrained in his business for years, and he was an expert. I immediately flashed back to when I switched careers after 18 years of being embedded in a business. It’s a shock to the system and can be debilitating if you don’t expect to feel, well, disoriented. This isn’t to say that one isn’t excited for a fresh start and the new challenge ahead, but we seem to understate the value in routine, surroundings and relationships. We underestimate that there can be a grieving process that exists with a career change no matter the circumstances of the departure.

I explained to my friend that everything he was feeling was very normal. After all he went from being the expert to knowing nothing about the new business. From being the “go-to” for most things, to not being known at all was a stark reality. His lunch routine was off as he would get his steps in on nice days, walking the same route. He knew exactly how many miles he would walk, the markers on his route that would tell him how many more minutes until he stopped and how many steps if he veered slightly off path. He knew the extensions of the people he would need to call to get things pushed through by heart, and he was incredibly fluent in the business and had years of historical experience. You get my drift, think about your daily routine, the people you get to see and enjoy, and all of the aspects of your job that bring about a high level of comfort and confidence and make your job enjoyable. It’s the minute daily things you grow accustomed to that you may not even notice, until it’s no longer available.

Don’t kid yourself, when you move to a new company the lack of your normal routine can manifest in the way of regret, self-doubt, and grief. But by the time the move is made, there is no going back. And while you may covet the idea of crawling back into the comfort of your previous role, don’t lose sight of why you left. You had pondered leaving for months, you knew you had to pursue other avenues, it was time. For whatever reason you got to that point, those reasons still exist in the rear view. Don’t look back, don’t put yourself through those mental gymnastics.

Instead, live with how it feels and just mentally tell yourself, I’m feeling exactly how I should at this moment. It will pass and brighter days will appear in short order. You have to remember you were hired at your new company for a reason. You are capable, you have a niche talent and experience combination that made you the best fit for the organization that you are fumbling around in current state. Your personality shown through in the interview and your new employer has already vetted if you are a good fit for the organization. They know the importance of team synergies and the high price of turn over if you don’t work out. So, while you may not be feeling full throttle, give yourself a break, there are plenty of people who are wanting you to deliver just like you did in your past roles and that while you are searching for your confidence, they are carrying the ‘confidence in you’ load for you both.

As far as routine, that won’t take long either. You will find your voice and your work tribe and you will become a part of and influence the culture of the organization. Now, as I seem to have all of the answers, it certainly didn’t prevent me from going through some of these feeling to a degree with my recent job change. I have an added benefit in that I know my new tribe and I know they have confidence in me. I understand the body of work and I believe in the leadership and appreciate the respect that had been given to me prior to accepting a role with the company. All of those items led to my decision to accept the position and it was helpful in the transition however, it did not solve for all of my scratchiness. Having an understanding that I would go through some change challenges during a period of time did help. I prepared for it in various ways for example,  I set up my new work environment similar to my previous office. I keep pictures of my legacy crew displayed in my office and I make a point to reach out to people from work that are important to me to continue our friendships. Becoming a master observer will benefit you in the transition as well. Listen for culture cues and rules of the road so you can integrate quickly with your surroundings.

My advice to my friend was give it two weeks and let’s check in and see how its going. Just recognize this is the normal state for this sort of transition, you’ve got this! I’m happy to say, it was less than the two weeks and he had his legs squarely under him, contributing in new ways, and figuring out his next path to navigate in his new world.

So, to all of you job seekers, and newly hired employees, you too, have got this! Just prepare for the change, know its normal to feel wonky for a minute, and just put your head down and GO!

Arriving

I was driving the other morning and I looked at my hands, gripped on the steering wheel. They looked so familiar. Genetically in almost all aspects, I resemble my Father’s side of the family. My laugh, my ears, nose, and height. Although I am only 5’6”, I towered over my Mom, she reached a whopping 4’11”. I noticed my hands that morning, and thought, I remember these, they are Mom’s.

Mom left the world too early. She suffered for years with a smoking addiction which led to her death at the age of 54. Seeing her hands again brought back so many memories. E­­ven though I have officially been without her longer than the days I was able to spend with her, I recall everything about her.

I specifically remember my Mom’s hands one day when she was driving, and quite similar to what I noticed about my own is that they were looking older. Her skin was a tad looser and seemed to be getting that crepe look to them. Reality set in, this aging thing is real and I can’t fight it forever and dang, I don’t want this life to go by so quickly.

I always say, the one thing that comes with age is wisdom. It’s true. By the time you hit your mid-40s, you have experienced most things that has impacted or shaped who you are. You most likely have hunkered down into being comfortable in your own skin, albeit crepe, loose or however you choose to describe it. For me age has done that. I’ve achieved that comfort of understanding the value I bring to the table for my profession, family, and friendships. I rarely get intimidated by new situations, but still have a healthy fear of failure, it keeps me on my toes. This doesn’t mean I operate without insecurity, but it isn’t the norm.

Age has also given me perspective. Success was defined in my early 20s about the new work opportunities I was able to commandeer or being a part of winning a new piece of business, a new promotion, or things I was able to do or accumulate from a material nature. It was my focus. I was single, a budding professional, and a transplant into a larger city from a small town atmosphere. I met a great friend who I had so much fun with who ultimately ended up being my husband. I remember thinking, “wow, this is good”. I made it, I had arrived.

My 30s brought new adventures. Still climbing my way to the top of the heap professionally, I was learning so much, it was so invigorating. I had my first child, Olivia, when I was 33. She stopped me in my tracks. I felt a new sense of vulnerability I had never felt. I realized I loved something more than myself, my spouse, ­­­­ my career, more than anything I had ever loved. She was way bigger than my dreams, she was way better than I expected that life could be. So, I pivoted emotionally. I found a decent balance with my career but still on the move, and Matt and I with the support of his parents allowed me to do that balance thing I hear so much about. There is no work life balance, there are mere moments of peaks and valleys and sometimes one requires more time than the other. The goal was that nothing and no one suffered while I pursued the climb. All was good. We saved enough to build a new home and continued to build upon our retirement fund. A decade later, I’m sliding out of my 30s with two beautiful children, a happy marriage, and I hit a bucket list item in my career. I had a goal to hit a C-level position by the time I was 40. I was hired April 21st as Chief Operating Officer at a medium-sized family owned business, just before my 40th birthday, May 1st. “Wow, life was great”. I made it, I had arrived!

A few years later, Olivia is now pushing 12, Mitch follows her at almost 10. What? Wait a minute, what just happened here? It is such an awakening when you remember how your parents told you not to rush the years, it will go by so fast. Again, they were right.

I have had the privilege of having an extraordinary group of friends. They are unique in that we all have our kids in common, they are all in similar age ranges, we have similar views on life, and we genuinely enjoy hanging out and maybe enjoying a bit of Knob Creek. The other interesting thing is, we rarely talk about work or what we do to fund our lives. In fact, it doesn’t even hit the care meter, it does not matter, no one in this group is defined or judged by one another in these ways. At least I hope not, we never talk about it (insert laugh).  We may discuss circumstances in the workplace, but generally we are off on broader topics like the forecast or when is the next ball game, next concert we want to go to, when is our friend’s band going to play again, who put the Fireball in the freezer.  You know, real cutting edge stuff.

We recently vacationed together at a lake. All 15 kids on the trip secretly planned a dance for our last night together. We all gathered and the music started to play and then it was absolute magic, it was a piece of heaven. As I stood back and took video of the moment, my lens on life continued to change. At that moment I saw the kids dancing for us and then the adults joining in and danced and laughed and laughed and danced. Literally all 27 of us got our groove on the deck, overlooking the lake with passing boats pausing to catch a look at this huge dance party. Everything seemed less to me, nothing could compete. While I was taking video, I was trying so hard to capture every moment in the hard drive in my brain, wishing the moment could last forever. ­­I was overwhelmed, I was fighting tears because in my life I realized, these moments are fleeing and its time to really look hard, capture more of these moments, dance like no one is watching, and for goodness sake not care when people are.

It became so easy to reflect on more moments, the ones that make your heart beat fast and the lump rise in your throat. Like w­­itnessing one of my very best friends meet and marry a man that fills her soul, talking to my Dad on the phone and laughing to tears, giving my brother grief, hugging my in laws goodbye before they leave for a trip, enjoying a beautiful dinner with friends, watching someone you have led for years rise through the ranks and achieve beyond their own expectations, and while mentioned last, certainly not least, absorbing all of those special moments with the kids. Or looking at my husband and realized he saved me from a much different life, and actually confessing it to him out loud. Having moments, rich, juicy, meaty, wonderful and full moments with people that you love….I’m seeing these moments more often. I download them all of the time.

I figured out that all of this stock I was putting into getting somewhere and doing more had nothing to do with my arrival in life. Now don’t get me wrong, the game of business is on my favorite playlist of life. I enjoy it to such a great degree and it is incredibly important to me. I love it, it is my playing field, it is how I put up points on the scoreboard, my three-point shot. My vigor for success is meaningful for various reasons, but it no longer has to do with “making it” in life. My career accomplishments no longer get to have the A stock in my life. The people in my life do.

Arriving means different things to different people. Arriving can change meaning over time and people get “there” through different means. The morale of the story, don’t spend too much time trying to do, spend time making. Making memories, making friends, making fun, and making the love story of your life.

I’m ok with seeing my mother’s hands on my steering wheel, age and all. They have worked hard to get me to the place at which I have arrived.

Acquisitions- Maintaining Soul in Your Newly Acquired Company

In my last segment I discussed the importance of integrating inward, or focusing on your internal team first. This segment we will touch upon the value of prioritizing your integration efforts within the acquiree to maintain the soul of the organization and leverage both what you brought to the table and what you acquired in the process.

As a young adult, I had the luxury of working for an organization that believed in delivering only the highest level of client and employee satisfaction. Delivering on our promises was expected. Growing and developing our teams was expected. We had an extraordinary leader who was highly driven, intelligent, and disciplined. He believed in and executed on the essentials – setting expectations and communicating results. And when the company won, everyone won. We were about something. Our leader maintained core business and personal philosophies that shaped our corporate strategy. That vision was something in which we could all understand and believe. And that sort of leadership attracted and inspired ambitious, hard chargers who fought for the win because they knew what a win looked like; they knew what they were shooting for. There was always a scoreboard and it could be applied to anything and everything. Said simply, it was a culture that drove results. There was a living, breathing soul to that company.

Every company has its own unique culture. Every company is founded on a certain something that will drive the heartbeat of its team. And just to be fair – that certain something isn’t always going to be the thing you want to maintain or foster long term – but there may be times when it’s one of the primary reasons you acquired the company to begin with. It’s a crucial element to evaluate.

Let me restate. Take the time to understand the DNA of the company you are acquiring. Then make decisions on how to best integrate. I understand streamlining and creating a one-to-many acquisition process may be beneficial for the acquiring company. However, unless you don’t care about the continuity of your new asset – which, by the way, means continuity in revenue, talent and morale – then you must be flexible. I’m going to continue my story for context.

Due to the wild success of our organization, we were bought by another company. The announcement was made and we received t-shirts and pens and sat through meetings where we were told how happy everyone was about bringing on such a successful team with such an interesting pedigree. And the very next week we were mandated to take any and all “legacy” items off of our desks, walls, etc. This included but was not limited to framed news articles displayed about our philanthropic contributions and awards that had been won due to spectacular achievements in sales and operations, and recognition plaques and letters from clients describing the great service we provided them. It included removing the wallpaper appliques that reminded us daily of our mission – to be successful, to be driven, to be a partner. The visual representation of a culture we took great pride in fostering and that absolutely drove all of the aforementioned success was wiped clean. What happens after that? You can easily guess.

Why was that the first thing on the list to do? Maybe there was good reason for it, but there was no communication as to why that was the first step of integration other than the new company wanted no remnants left of the old. The “legacy” stuff was gone, except of course the people. What does that say to the team that built what you bought? These people have with talent, tribal knowledge, and client relationships you would like to maintain. Wiping clean the culture they spent years cultivating and that was central to that talent, knowledge and relationship-building is at best a poor choice and at worst disastrous to your financials. This is one example of many head scratching strategies that have been shared with me regarding acquisition integration. When you need your new asset to thrive, be judicious about when and how change is introduced. You are dealing with the emotions and grit of the people within that organization and they need to feel a part of the process, not the recipient of the order. This goes far past the human element. Here are some other things to consider as you begin your integration process to avoid sucking the soul out of your results.

  1. Spend time understanding what makes the organization tick. Core values, mission, belief systems. Apply some emotional intelligence to the scenario. Think about how to keep the workforce engaged and executing at a high degree while new integration cycles are introduced.
  2. Make sure you know the market factors in integration changes. For example, does your new company’s name have a market value in the industry? When does it make sense to introduce a name change if at all? Does the name change hurt or impact your revenue stream? Do not let ego get in the way of this one, it can be detrimental to your bottom line if this one isn’t carefully thought out.
  3. Be cautious about what you say to the employees during the announcement time and press releases. For instance, “we are buying this company for their expertise in this channel, we plan on utilizing their best practices across the entire enterprise”. Statements like this, if not followed through, can destroy both trust in and the credibility of new leadership if not implemented. Say things that are real and honest even if it is not all roses.
  4. Evaluate the cost of non-revenue generating moves. If mission statements, company name and marketing materials, and various business processes already work, use them. You will save time, money and lessen non-critical burdens in the beginning of an integration strategy by simply letting simple things stand.
  5. Know that people are your biggest asset. What do you spend the most money on in any company? Salaries. These people are your largest investment to make you successful and when you acquire a company with a rich, employee-centric culture, you’re acquiring people who have been given something to believe in for which they’ll go to the ends of the earth to maintain.  Some changes are not a matter of if, but when. Take your time understanding the proper roll out plan for items that may not be a big deal for the acquiring company, but certainly matters to those in the new organization. There is a time and place for everything, make sure you become a student of that statement.
  6. Stay clear of soul torching activities. Sometimes employing an unbiased party into the mix is a good idea to assist in removing the emotion out of decisions and assist in your prioritization process.

Carefully evaluating your priorities of integration will set the stage for a successful future. Garnering buy-in from those who are responsible for keeping the soul of the organization not just alive but thriving is paramount. What you are creating with the acquisition carries both the legacy of what it was and what it could become with the proper nurturing. Strike the balance.

Acquiring a Company? Integrate Inward First

I ran into a friend and former colleague the other day that we will call Bill. We caught up on our families and pending summer vacations, but our conversation inevitably turned to work. His company was recently acquired and was beginning the work of integrating with the acquiring company. What struck me were the similarities in so many other stories I’ve heard of acquisition activity. It is hard work – harder than most expect for both the acquirer and the acquiree. It can turn ugly, quickly, and thus result in the loss of talent and experience if not strategically managed. And it can slow revenue growth the very opposite outcome and very worst thing that can come from an acquisition investment – if not executed brilliantly.

I speak from experience with all of the aforementioned challenges. There are, without question, very simple yet significant steps that acquiring companies need to consider to protect their new asset. This article is the first of a three-part series, focused on post-acquisition integration.

First Things First – The Current Crew

Too often, the lion’s share of time is spent communicating to and about the “new team” and less effort mapping a course for the current one. It’s not just the employees in the acquired company that will struggle with change. Absent or ineffective communication about objectives within the acquiring company can and will breed insecurity that can quickly manifest into turf wars, closed-off communication, omission of information, and quite frankly, disrespectful interactions with those who may be perceived as a threat. That, coupled with an entirely new team trying to show its value can be a recipe for low morale and underwhelming results if inward integration is not done right. Focus on nurturing, communicating and ensuring stability with your current team post acquisition, will set the tone of how they interact with your new team.

Bill spoke of an example where conflicting approaches by leadership were leading to a disconnect felt across the company. The new CEO had a great vision, was a practical thinker and understood the value of his investment. The CEO had respectful interactions with Bill, openly asked him for advice, and collaborated on decisions with he and his team. All the while, the CEO’s right-hand had a very different vision and approach. His interactions with Bill were stressed and at times degrading, and seemingly his goal was to make sure he established dominance in the situation before finding the best approach. Being in charge became more important than being right. These two competing strategies, created two messages that led to emotional collateral damage, confusion, and fear.

Why such different approaches?

Personality is one thing, but it was clear that rules of engagement from the top were not established. Most likely, the CEO’s right hand was insecure about Bill’s skills, experience, and business acumen not to mention the budding new relationship he was establishing with his boss.

Prepping your internal team, educating them on the strategic need for the acquisition and subsequently, establishing expectations for how they will conduct themselves with the employees of the newly acquired company is the first step to success. There’s no need to make promises, most companies move too quickly for guarantees and doing so can be just as toxic long term. However, it is appropriate and necessary to level set with your staff and let them know that you care about them and your new asset and that they play an important role in optimizing outcomes. The following are five simple things to implement while integrating inward:

  1. Proactively check the temperature of your Leadership Team by discussing the acquisition strategy. Understand who your internal supporters are, neutral parties, and negative nellies. It will be clear how you will need to construct your discussions with them for optimal results.
  2. Create a communication plan for your internal teams. Make sure the communication is clear, expectations are set and you do your best to eradicate insecurity.
  3. Demonstrate your affinity for the new company and talk favorably about the new talent and experience your team will have access to and how the collaboration between the new teams will drive results.
  4. Incorporate surveys regarding your leadership and staff’s ability to collaborate, their helpfulness, and their accessibility for the new team. Create incentives for great results!
  5. Be vigilant of personnel issues between legacy and new staff and extinguish them quickly. Don’t expect conflicts to manage themselves in this scenario; active leadership on seemingly insignificant things will be necessary for a while. Everything is a big deal for the time being.

Don’t underestimate the need to fulfill the emotional needs of your team once you have made the decision to buy a company, it will impact how smoothly your integration activities are executed. Without looking inward first, you can’t hope to look outward to a productive and successful future.