When Joel, a senior VP of sales, first began his executive coaching engagement with me, he was perplexed. His team had underperformed, missing sales targets in four of the last four quarters, and his frustration was beginning to manifest as self-doubt. Bottlenecked communication, the consistent lack of response from other departments in the company, customer complaints and terminated contracts were pervasive. Disappointment, tension and frustration permeated the office environment — hardly conducive to motivation.
Your success as a leader isn’t measured in a vacuum; rather, it’s reflected in your team’s performance. Just as the coach of a championship sports team, all eyes are on you to lead your team to victory. Like Joel, as a leader, you have an end goal in mind. Maybe it’s increased sales; maybe it’s a higher customer retention rate; maybe it’s greater visibility in your industry. While your team is charged with helping you reach that goal, they rely on your support and direction. How can you enhance your leadership capacity to facilitate your team’s success? Knowing what your team members need from you is a critical piece of the leadership puzzle. Unfortunately, your assessment — of what they need, and what you’re giving them — doesn’t always align with their perception. The key lies in asking the right questions.
Lead Your Team to Success: Increase Your Own Accountability
“I hire good people who, in turn, hire good people. People who share our company’s vision. People who are dedicated, competent, and conscientious,” Joel told me. “It only stands to reason that the reason they’re not achieving our goals is due to something lacking in my leadership … right?” he asked. With that, he had opened the proverbial door. When I suggested that Joel take took a look at his own accountability, he was almost dismissive. He prides himself on delivering on his promises, on doing what he says he will do — on time and within budget. Like so many other leaders — good people, to the core! — Joel was sure accountability was not the problem. Until our conversation delved deeper.
Accountability is a wide umbrella. But many leaders, like Joel, consider it with a narrow lens. Staying true to your word, meeting deadlines and embodying integrity are only part of the formula for true accountability. Equally important is the ability to communicate with crystal clarity, leaving no room for misinterpretation, misunderstanding or faulty assumptions. That’s the piece that many leaders are missing — and that’s the piece that, once honed, can catapult your leadership effectiveness.
- Am I making effective requests?
- Am I providing context for requests?
- Have I clearly communicated standards of performance that I expect?
- Do team members have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities?
- Have I given team members the relevant information — and tools — to engage in critical conversations?
- Do I have a tendency to “rescue” team members, stepping in as peacemaker to shield them from conflict?
- Are team members able to view situations from others’ perspectives?
- Have I created an environment of trust, where team members feel comfortable approaching me with questions or concerns?
Facilitating Success — After Failure
In triumphant times, you and your team share the glory. When the going gets rough — when your team stumbles or fails — the blame is less shared, more focused. Usually on you, as leader. Joel’s sales team had a pretty decent track record when it came to closing new sales, but they weren’t able to own the entire client life cycle. They were good hunters, but not such great farmers. Customer satisfaction and retention both suffered as a result.
While management questioned Joel, the sales team was quick to blame the IT support team and, as you might imagine, the support team boomeranged the blame right back at sales. It took asking some profound questions for all parties to cultivate a deep understanding of the others’ perspectives. When things go wrong (and, inevitably, they will), the question to ask yourself has a slight twist: What could I have done differently — more effectively — to facilitate a better outcome? For some leaders, this is a shift, away from finger-pointing and assigning the blame to other people or external factors.
- Were there misunderstandings based on miscommunications?
- Did I neglect to provide any critical information that would have changed the outcome?
- Did I fail to communicate my expectations — clearly?
By changing the way he led others, Joel enhanced the possibility of change in his team members, in the team dynamics and in the team’s relationships with other divisions within the company. Working on increasing his own accountability ultimately rendered him able to co-create accountability with others. The disappointment, tension and frustration that once pervasive gradually subsided, replaced by a renewed sense of cooperation and optimism. The change was almost immediate, apparent in the following quarter’s sales numbers. Because the sales team was able to make grounded, realistic promises to new clients, their expectations were met — and usually exceeded.
What’s holding you (and your team) back from reaching your potential? Learn to recognize the blind spots that sabotage your success, reduce your stress levels and achieve your greatest goals through our Accountability Mirror™ and MindMastery™ workshop series.
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