Accountability: So Critical to Success, So Poorly Understood

Accountability must be one of the lens-637558_1280most misused, poorly understood concepts in leadership.

For some accountability means punishment –  as in “Tom has had a bad month, but noone is doing anything about it.  Where is the accountability?”

For many, accountability is mostly  something external imposed on you or others – as in “In our culture, leaders hold their people accountable to high standards.”

Yet I think these interpretations completely miss the point.  Accountability first and foremost is ownership – internal, intense, and deeply personal.  Accountability is a powerful state of mind where  a person is focused intensely on doing important things, and has no patience for the  misrepresentation and distortion that excuses provide.  Accountability is the certainty that the “buck stops here,” not because someone else is imposing it upon you, but because of a choice.

Entrepreneurs struggling to get a business off the ground know something about accountability.  They are the business, and any failure or success is completely theirs.  There is no time and no audience for excuses.  The brutal truth of things is the lifeblood of identifying issues and learning from them.

One of the best books I have read on accountability is, No More Excuses: The Five Accountabilities for Personal and Organizational Growth, by Sam Silverstein.  This is an easy read, introducing some simple yet profound concepts of how to be more accountable and sustain personal accountability. 

That’s right, the gold star here is a culture of personal, internal accountability.

What if you find yourself in a culture or team not very accountable?  Get ready for some serious change management.

5 Tips for Creating a More Accountable Team and Culture

  1. Define ownership!  Seems pretty simple, right?  Wrong.  Many leaders muck up accountability by making several people accountable, which means none of them really are.  Get clear and specific on who owns what.
  2. Focus on a small number of clear goals.  Too many accountabilities is like too many owners.  Hone your wants into your critical needs, then get super clear about what defined success.  Pick one (ideally) or two.  Now you have an objective to which people can hold themselves accountable.
  3. Communicate the goal and ownership like crazy.  Over and over again.  Every time you can.  Your team needs to internalize this deeply.
  4. Measure progress against the goal.  No good to own progress toward a goal if the progress is not measurable or not measured.  Like driving from New York to California but not knowing where you are until you get there.  Visibility of progress  feeds accountability.
  5. Pay attention to progress but more importantly pay attention to the state of accountability.  The most important thing is the team members holding themselves accountable.


Related Content:

  1. The Buck Stops Here: A Culture of Accountability Drives Effective Leadership ( >  Leadership Development Today)
  2. The Core Principles of Leadership Accountability (

Back At It!


It’s been a while.9654565403_b0f501bafa_b1

I began this blog a few years ago to share my thoughts on servant leadership and to spur a discussion of how we can use the “heart of a servant” to transform our teams and impact people.

It’ s not that I am some kind of perfect example – I have plenty of blind spots and challenges in leadership.

So I hold up my thoughts and experiences as a starting point – a (hopefully) interesting perspective on leadership as it plays out in modern organizations.

And now…I am back at it.  I had a new team and new organization to get to know, to build up, to understand.  It was my top priority and for a while it took all I had to give.

Take a look at some of my previous posts  on the basics of servant leadership and leadership development…

Tapping into the Wisdom of the Ages – Making the Golden Rule a Foundation of Your Leadership

5 Steps to Better Listening (and more Effective Leadership)

Essential Qualities of a Leader: A Belief You Really, Absolutely Must Have for Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership in the Real World: Do They Believe in You and Your Vision?

Please comment so we can have a discussion.  The more the merrier.

And pass this blog along, share with others, post in forums – let’s get the word out.




Related Content:

  1. 7 Secrets of ‘Servant Leadership’ that Will Lead You to Success (
  2. 9 Qualities of the Servant Leader (
  3. Why Isn’t Servant Leadership More Prevalent? (





Servant Leadership in the Real World: Do They Believe in You and Your Vision?

red tree blogLet’s review:   servant leadership is not about you, it is about your team, the people you serve.  This feels good – humility, focusing on others, trusting, empowering.  But here is the rub, the unfortunate reality:  if your team does not understand and value what you bring, and does not believe in your vision – then your influence weakens and your impact drains away.

Servant leadership, like all forms of leadership, draws its strength and vitality from the engagement of followers.  As admirable as being a “servant” might be,  it does not by itself motivate or inspire or engage your team.  You need a vision, one that captures the unique value you bring to the team.  Yes, you need to focus on Number One, your strengths, your values, your beliefs – and pull together a cohesive vision.

In short, to be an effective servant  leader, you have to be a bit self-centered.

But, do not despair…your vision does not have to be mega-grand, like bringing world peace or abolishing hunger.  In fact, for the purposes of effective, practical leadership, your vision is really a view of the destination of the team – and here being practical and “doable” works really well.  While you’re at it, consider how progress toward that vision would be measured…

For example…as head of a marketing team, your vision might be to lift your company’s brand to the most recognized brand in its market, as measured by surveys of industry leaders.

As lead of a boy scout group, your vision might be to create a rich outdoor-skills oriented program, so engaging to the Scouts that it doubles the number of boys reaching Eagle Scout within 5 years.

Unless you are the top dog, there are higher level, more encompassing visions cast above, so you will  need to ensure alignment with the larger team you are part of.  Nonetheless,  your leadership depends on the team knowing and believing in what you particularly and specially bring to your organization, to your team, to their lives.

Something that will serve them in a compelling way.


Related Content:

1.  Servant Leadership Starts with a Clear Vision  (

2. The Seven Leadership Qualities of Great Leaders (






6 Steps To Effective Change Leadership

3256212725Leadership, at its most basic level, is about change.

Leaders create change, help others adapt to change, and affect the nature and type of change.   Think back through your experience – have you seen great leadership without change, or the possibility of change?  Situations without some kind of change usually involve degrading, diluting, and otherwise moving the wrong way.

Why is it then, that so many leaders resist change?  Change brings challenges, and so well-intentioned  people naturally want low-risk change – change that appears to be a clear win.  But here is the danger.  The lowest risk change also brings the lowest potential benefit.  In a business, a small tweak to the organization or a minor change to a product will not impact performance much.  A new package for a corn flakes box is not going to make corn flakes the new rage.  A new fender shape for a 15-year old car design does not make us rush out to buy it.

Recognize that resisting change, or only supporting low risk change, has a  significant cost of its own, the cost of missed opportunity.  A better course is to engage in change, help direct change – influence the direction of change actively to ensure maximum positive impact.

6 Steps for Effective Change Leadership:

1.  Get over it!  Change is going to happen.  Resist that emotional reaction, the frown, the negative body language the declares immediately you are not on board.  Actively seek to understand the positive.

2.  Develop your own plan for positive change.  Call it vision, strategic planning, program management  – whatever you want.  To lead effectively you need to have your a sense of where you want your team/organization/life to go.  This vision will drive the kind of change you create.  And, when change occurs, this vision will guide you in how to engage, how to respond – since times of change are always, always, opportunities. 

3. Communicate, communicate – then communicate some more.  Whether you are leading the change, or you are helping your team adapt to change, communication is your primary tool.  Explain the reason for the change, acknowledge  uncertainties, and ask for support and ideas for how to ensure the most positive outcome.  Make sure every person affected is part of this conversation.  This kind of communication is not a one-time thing – continue the dialogue.

4.  A Plan for Change, well, changes!  Be prepared to course correct.  Whatever you think is going to happen in a period of change, you are wrong.  Stay agile, be prepared to adjust your thoughts, messages, and actions.

5.  Help the team learn.  Even in the midst of change, as the team makes it through key milestones, wins, or even difficulties – get everyone together to discuss what has happened, strengths that need to be emphasized, and adjustments that need to be made.  My blog post concerning Team debriefs is worth another look – Here.

6.  When people turn negative or become discouraged – communicate even more.  Change can be harder for some than others.

We can all benefit from a more intentional focus on vision, action, and communication in times of change.  Amplify your leadership impact by taking advantage of the opportunity that change brings.


Related Content:

1.  How to Lead Change:  3 Simple Steps (

2.  Leadership Lessons:  5 Critical Requirements When Leading Change (


Values Alignment: What it is, Why it Matters, and 4 Steps to Get More of It!

53819053Modern leadership “jargon” includes this phrase, “Values Alignment.”  We all toss it around like 1) everyone knows what it means, and 2)  everyone knows how to achieve it.   In my experience, neither point is usually true.  So lets dive in…


What are values?  The Oxford dictionary  gives us,  “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life….”  That hits it about right.  Principles that represent the judgment about what is important – not just in a single context or situation, but in life overall.

A key distinction, is that we all have values that are not situational – and these deeper values drive us in a powerful way.  For example,  honesty is a core value for many.  One of the fundamental values I have is  that people deserve love and respect.  We all have a number of these core values.   Think on this a minute – can you state your core values?  Write them down!

Core or Not Core?   Core values are those values that you would give everything to protect.  It is not easy to boil your various beliefs and values down to the core.  As you come up with an idea, ask yourself if you could live without that value – if you can, it is not core.  For example, one of my not-core values is that time is valuable, so meetings should be effective.  But I would not fight to my last breath for an effective meeting!  So this is not a core value – other things are more important.

Values in Conflict

Major differences in core, fundamental values drive conflict.  It is inevitable.  The conflict might be “inner” – causing dissatisfaction, disengagement, and other things beginning with “dis-.”  In extreme cases it can be external – the newspapers are full of this kind of outward verbal or physical conflict.

Don’t think you and your team are any exception.  Don’t think you can somehow manage or finesse your way through major core value disagreements.  Core values are those things someone would protect at all costs.  No cleverness can make up for opposing core values.

Values Alignment

“Values Alignment” is not just an absence of value conflict.  There isn’t much inspiration or energy in a “sort-of aligned” state.  Close alignment on core values, however,  binds your team into a tribe, builds energy for the important work ahead.  Think of it as value “resonance,” similar to when a sound wave causes the structural parts of an object to vibrate together, in sync, in alignment.

For you to have values alignment, the work and mission of the group needs to be based on a significant set of shared values.   And the other core values, those that are not shared, should not be in opposition.  This might sound like a tough standard, but keep in mind that differences in non-core values will occur in a diverse team – it is the solid, aligned core that keeps things together.

What actions create “alignment ?”  Values alignment occurs when folks with a set of shared core values know what they are, discuss these core values, and share how to apply them and make them relevant in life and work.  Did you write down you core values earlier?   If not – take a moment to do so, at least to hit the high points.  This list will be refined over time as you come to understand what core/fundamental really means.

4 Steps to Better Values Alignment

1.  Write Down Your Core Values.  Simple, but not commonly done.  As a leader, it can help to actually post your core values as an ever-present communication of what you stand for.  It will be a powerful reference point and anchor for your teams.  Regardless of your role, writing down core values is important to achieve alignment so you actually, uh, know what you are aligning!

2.  Talk about you core values.  I know you saw this one coming…don’t shy away from mentioning your core values as  you make decisions, celebrate victories, or discuss problems.  When they are relevant, talk about values.  Just like you would other important factors in your work or life.

3.  Know the core values of the people in your business and life.    Core values will differ among people, but there needs to be overlap, and a lack of opposition of core values.  Ask the people in your world (peers, supervisor, team members) about their values.  Look for fundamental, core values.  Understand where they are coming from.  Identify and talk about overlap, shared values.  This is essential for recruiting talent – do not bring anyone onto your team until you have  a good read on their core values.  Don’t even think about it.

4.  Address values opposition and conflict.  This is the difficult part.  Some folks in your organization may have core values which conflict with those of you, your team, and/or your organization.  But first – take a careful look at where the values difference is.  If it is outside the core, then there is likely a shared core value that can be leveraged to resolve the conflict.  That disagreement over whether to recognize individual merit or team contribution can be resolved by starting at shared core values such as caring for people – and work up from there.

But…if you find that someone in your team or organization has deeply held values that conflict with the organization/teams’ core values, then that person – for their own happiness and that of the team – needs to join a team or organization more in keeping with their core beliefs.

Take the issue of Values Alignment seriously.  It will be a source of energy, inspiration, and common mission for your team.

Servant Leadership 101: One Powerful Habit Effective Servant Leaders Share

8417804534Have you  witnessed  how  much time really effective leaders spend building relationships?  It is a continuous effort, a constant part of what they do – asking questions, listening, trying to understand what people are thinking, looking into what is happening from the perspective of others.

Leaders with the most inspired, engaged, and effective organizations  spend most of their time building relationships with and among people.  They naturally break down barriers and connect silos (see my post about silos here).

What is really going on here?  Every conversation, every new link made, every experience shared, every new person engaged builds the health of the network.  What network, you say?  The communication and relationship links across functional borders, across physical and geographic separation.   There is nothing profound about saying that people who are great “connectors” make it tons easier to get things done.  Great leaders within complex organizations intentionally and actively build links and connections – targeting the connections that most powerfully affect the way work is done, the quality of the work experience, the effectiveness by which the team accomplishes the mission.

I have often used the word “enabling” and “catalyst” to describe the impact of a servant leader.  How is such impact achieved?  By acting to enhance the way the human networks in their world work.

Imagine the improvement in influence and effect you would have if you constantly focused on improving the way the people in your life connect, share, and bond.  For many, it would be a transformative change.  Every moment spent in that state would build the effectiveness of others.

Try it out.  Go beyond the surface level and find out what is going on in the world of folks you meet and know.  Look to make a connection, to offer to help.

I have been inspired recently by Steve Beecham, a master networker and motivational speaker.  Take a look at Steve Beecham’s Bassackwards Business:  The Power of Helping Without Hustling.  His website is

And let me know what you think.

Related Content:

1.  What Are the Most Important Things Great Leaders Do? (

2.  How Leaders Create and Use Networks (

3.  Six Rules of Leadership Networking (leading

Defining the word “Talent” – and 4 Action Steps to Get More of It!

7987532186After my last post, Hire Talent, Not Experience!, some folks wanted to know more about what I mean by the word “talent”, and what specific things they can do to better identify and recruit talent.

Cool, those are essential questions if we want to turn this concept into action.

I think the general definition of talent used by the Gallup Organization is a good one:   “Talents are naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.”  But if you think about it, that general definition leaves all the work to you, oh dedicated leader of people.  Because you have to figure out all the key pieces:

– What recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior produce results in your world/business/team?

– How do you move the talented person from “can be productively applied” to “performed brilliantly, nailed it!”

In my experience, intuition is helpful but not really enough.  You have to be intentional and specific in the way you think about talent in your context.  Here is a diagram that I use occasionally to describe the search for great product development talent, where the key talents of interest are shown as dimensions:

Talent chart

There are probably more dimensions than this to consider, but in this example I have defined 3 recurring patterns that predict the performance of a product development engineer on an engineering task:  Technical Ability, Relationship Forming, and Creativity.  I could probably add Attention to Detail but bear with me.

The point is that on a continual basis you will want to evaluate these “factors” in your team members (locate them in the talent “space,” consider how these talents correlate with results,  and begin to create a specific set of the key talent dimensions that predict success for a particular role in your organization/environment.

Here are Actions Steps that will help you get more of the talent you need:

1. Study your top performers.  Is there a combination of these talents that occur over and over again in your top performers?  A certain amount of creativity that is needed to do the job?  A certain minimum quality of technical thought processes?  These might mark key success factors for the role.  You just need to have a certain minimum level to succeed on our team.

2. Evaluate the mix of talents on successful teams, and the gaps in talent in your organization.  What range of talents would add important elements to the team, create needed diversity of talent, complement other members?  Here you are putting together that special recipe for the team that usually benefits from a range of complementary talents.

3. Create the talent profile you need.  There will be a range of talents you can accept – you want to think about this before people start interviewing for the job.  At this point you will not only have a stronger target for your search, but you will have a meaningful language to discuss how candidates would affect the team and perform in the role.

Important Caution:  Do not use this system as a back-and-white, go/no-go screen.  Talent is hard to identify and always a subjective criteria at some level.  And you might find that someone high in one talent might not be the ideal fit but might complement others who are low in that talent.  You might find a team recipe that works with a particular person’s talents in a special way you had not considered – sort of like an unusual case of item #2 above.

4.  Develop screening tools.  Consider not just interview questions, but specific problems or situations that reveal the focus talents for the role.  Run each candidate through as wide array of questions and evaluations as feasible to understand his/her talents.

I know this is harder than it sounds.  But try this out for a critical opening on your team, run a pilot project to see if this helps.  Let me know how it goes!

Do have any thoughts on this or related ideas?  Let me know by commenting below…

Related Content:

1.  Exactly What is Talent, Anyway? (

2.  How to Identify Your Employees’ Hidden Talents (

3.  Identifying and Developing Talent (