I was reminded (again) this week that just because someone says it’s a priority doesn’t make it so. True across the board: politics, government, military, and from the C-suite on down.
This reminder was about leadership development, of course, because that’s what we do. Do you think development is important in your organization? One quick way to tell: who’s in charge of it?
I’m re-plowing old ground here, since we’ve been over this time and again, but you leaders are wasting time and money on developing your younger leaders if HR is in charge of your leadership development program(s).
Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against HR. Some of my best friends are HR professionals. Okay, not really, but there are some that I like and respect a lot.
It’s not that HR doesn’t have a role in your development program(s); it’s just that leaders develop leaders, not personnel, EEO or benefits specialists. I do appreciate when a senior HR leader develops others in his/her organization – if they’re not, they’re doing the organization a disservice – but you can’t develop leaders by telling them what color(s) and letter(s) they are.
If the C-suite doesn’t actively participate in the development of leaders in their organization, don’t count on it happening at any level below that. There is no way to reinforce and hone leadership skills without someone above being part of the effort. How else can a developing leader (and aren’t we all one) take risks without fear of paying for failure with their jobs? How else can they try new skills and measure success without someone who is involved to help them gain clarity about what’s working and what’s not?
You can teach people about supervision (reinforcement) and management (process), but leadership (people) development is a hands-on process that HR can merely facilitate. Don’t try to pin accountability on HR, though; the results are up to you leaders.
We can all wear buttons that tell others that we’re green until we get red under stress. Knowing I’m a type C or A or an STBJ doesn’t actually help anyone know what motivates me or makes me feel appreciated. How will you know if your team feels like they’re doing worthy work if you don’t ask them? HR sure isn’t going to tell you.
This week’s reminder was a CEO lamenting about how his senior directors needed development. Turns out neither he – nor the CxO – was particularly engaged in the last effort. They left it to HR and never considered the coincidence that all the senior directors had the same problems.
Hint: if you have a problem with a direct report, it might be them. If you have the same problem with all your direct reports… well, if everything around you smells like shit, you should check your own shoe.
If you leave developing your team to someone else, you might as well expect them to teach your pig to sing while they’re at it. You won’t be happy with the results in either case.
How about you? Who’s leading your team’s leadership development efforts?
It’s up to you, leaders.
— It’s not a title, office or salary…
I originally told this story several years ago, more from a motivate-to-perform angle. As I’m sitting at my desk thinking, it actually distills leadership behavior into a single emotion. Be forewarned, this is a bit sappier than most of my writing (as I daintily blot a single tear)…
How does a leader make us feel? (more…)
I recently had a conversation with some really smart people around Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Read the book, it’s a good one, discussing how intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic almost all the time. If you were expecting me to now give you some detailed book review, you’re about to be disappointed.
As these things often do, we ended up in an extended “bunny trail” conversation around the whole subject of individual responsibility and accountability, and what that really meant from a leadership perspective.
Here’s what we discovered during our lengthy and oft-times pseudo-cerebral discussions:
Responsibility–the easiest part. Responsibility is simply a list of things we do, tasks we perform, jobs we are given. Alan Weiss called this “inputs.” You can be responsible for myriad things, both that you specifically control, and some… well, not so much.
In my world, I’m responsible for coaching, facilitating, consulting, providing proposals, answering emails and calls, responding promptly to clients, etc.
These are all Responsibilities.
Accountability–it’s not the same as “blame,” per se, though there is a certain sect of people who would ascribe such. No, it’s bigger than that, yet infinitely simpler. It’s the outcomes of our responsibilities. It’s the results expected from our inputs.
For me, improved leadership behavior, demonstrably better skills, increased performance of a business, function, or enterprise (that actually follows my consulting or advice!) are all Accountabilities. It’s the results or outcomes of my Responsibilities.
We often confuse these two, yet the differences are both clear and significant. Pay attention to them.
Leadership–heavily influences both Responsibility and Accountability. For instance, we influence–actually determine–what a subordinate’s Responsibilities will be. We tell them what we want them to do, what we expect them to be working on, when to be there, etc. Leaders have, quite literally, 100% control (there’s that word) over employee Responsibilities.
Now Accountability gets a bit fuzzier.
Yes, leadership determines, from a starting level, what results and/or outcomes that an employee will be Accountable for (sorry for the dreaded stranded preposition–couldn’t be helped). But there is also a measure of personal acceptance required for real Accountability to be visible to others–an important component.
An employee can be Accountable “because I said so,” but evidence of that employee actually accepting that Accountability requires a willingness on their part to demonstrate that accountability openly, e.g., “Yes, I did that,” “No, it wasn’t an accident, it was my intent,” “That was my responsibility, and I didn’t do it,” and so on. These demonstrate acceptance of accountability, and that’s something only the individual can do.
Now, leadership clearly influences all of this. Leadership has to make sure that Responsibilities are clear, reasonable, and have value. Leaders must also ensure that an environment exists where accepting Accountability is not necessarily fatal; that demonstrating Accountability is a mark of courage and success, not of weakness and/or failure.
This, of course, is the heavy-lifting part.
No doubt many of you have been looking toward 2018 lately, adjusting your strategy and plans to make it a(nother) successful year. Whatever methodology you use, researching what the competition is doing is critical. What many organizations miss, however, is how the competition’s leadership is contributing to their success.
I think that’s a blind spot that causes us to underestimate the opposition, brought on by our overconfidence in our own leadership acumen.
A long time ago, in a land far, far away…
Does anyone else remember when being called a mentor was something special? Back before we started using it in performance evaluations? Before we had to ask, and maybe pay someone to mentor us? Before it was a buzzword?
I certainly do, and I’m thankful for the group of professionals who served as mentors to me during my occasionally tumultuous military career. They were leaders all, and as I’ve mentioned before, leaders develop leaders… that’s their job.
Take, for instance, the, “Kevin, I’m not trying to change who you are, but you don’t have to be you so hard all the time.” (Thanks, Mike.) I might have used that one a time or two as I tried to pay it forward by passing the lessons I learned to those I’ve led and mentored.
… or, what to do when a plan doesn’t come together.
I can honestly say I’ve learned more from my mistakes than my successes. I doubt I’m alone in that. What’s that old saying? “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” Obviously, none of my mistakes were fatal and none ended my career… yet.
Some of my biggest mistakes I considered colossal failures at the time, only to learn later that there are actually some things I can’t control. Like the time I lost $1.1B in multi-year resourcing. Or the time I started an international incident in the skies over Younameastan. Or the time I invested in a gold mine (seriously!).
I was fortunate to work for a number of leaders that knew mistakes are rarely intentional, and almost all can be important learning opportunities. I always tried to pass that on to the men and women who worked for me afterwards. Yes, mistakes can be frustrating and costly, but in a corporate setting, they’re rarely life threatening.
One of my favorite mistakes happened during my last fun assignment in the Air Force when I was leading a rapidly deployable group trained to respond to a wide variety of contingency operations. We were deployed to a bare base for a self-imposed training exercise to test our readiness to operate in chemical protective gear – an old-time Cold War, NATO-type exercise. By bare base, I mean a runway and a patch of dirt with zero support infrastructure.
It was only for a few days, but both the days and nights were long and filled with hard physical and mental exertion. The night before the exercise ended, I reviewed the re-deployment plan put together by our logistics planner. My one rule was that we were not going to bring the tents down in the dark. Something always gets broken when we do that.
It was a good plan, but it was clear that he had forgotten about the one-hour time differential between GMT and local, so his assumption about when it would be light was wrong. I asked probing questions about the plan but couldn’t get him to see his error. After all, he’d checked with the weatherman specifically to see when nautical dawn was.
The next morning was busy, and we completed all the assigned tasks by the scheduled tent breakdown time. But it was still pitch-black. I asked that the planner come see me, and when he reported in, I asked his where the sun was.
He stood tall and replied, “Sir, it’s scheduled to arrive any minute.”
I let him know that it wouldn’t be arriving for another hour and that under no circumstances would we break tents down in the dark. And then I let him continue to be in charge of the pack up. Fortunately, that young captain was resourceful and flexible. He assigned some other activities that were scheduled for later and managed to scrounge a light cart from somewhere else on the airfield. Within a half hour, we were breaking down tents and had completed palletizing the entire camp by the time the aircraft arrived for our re-deployment to home base.
He turned a failure into a complete success and learned a couple of lasting lessons:
- Learn to critically examine your plans and listen for understanding when someone asks questions. Maybe the question behind the question is what really needs to be considered.
- Always have a Plan B (and maybe C). Think about it, how often does everything go exactly as planned? Ever?
- Give subordinates every opportunity to try tasks that stretch them without fear that failure will result in humiliation or professional suicide. During the debrief, I publicly praised his original plan (with the notable exception of the failure of the sun to appear on time) and his resourcefulness that resulted in mission success.
Kevin Berchelmann’s Law of Leadership #4: Make your expectations clear, then back up a bit and give employees room to do their job. In other words, let your people take risks without fearing the occasional failure. They need to know you have their back, and you’re not going to fire them if something goes awry.
That was ten years ago. That young captain has been promoted a few times since and is a commander himself now. We still keep in touch (I’ll save the value of mentoring for another piece), and his last note to me read, “Regardless of when/how you learned your leadership style it was appreciated and is part of your legacy. You inspired me to be a better Airman, Officer, and father.”
Doesn’t get much better than that.
What have you taught your employees about making mistakes? The last thing you want is for the mistakes to be hidden behind the fear of your reaction. Just because you’ve stopped hearing about mistakes doesn’t mean they’ve stopped happening.