When you hold yourself and others accountable for actions good or bad, you build a culture where people don’t make excuses. They’re able to reach their full potential. “It’s essential to investigate causes (of problems), but not to blame anyone or anything as an excuse for not taking action,” Betty Shotton, an Ocracoke, N.C.-based former CEO who started six companies, told IBD. “You need leaders to step up.”
• Sweat the small stuff. Don’t let little transgressions go, says Shotton, author of “Liftoff Leadership.” Cover up a minor detail, and you could be headed for bigger trouble.
Instead, be accountable no matter the problem’s size. That attitude will carry across the whole firm. “Integrity means every part of the whole is working,” she said.
• Lay out your principles. Define your group’s values and set them out in a vision or mission statement, Shotton says. Make it clear that traits such as accountability play big roles in performance reviews and job descriptions.
Shotton notes that at shoe seller Zappos.com, values are vital to success. The point? “Put values first and make them visible,” she said.
• Admit your errors. Leaders must own up to mistakes. If they hide or ignore them, they’ll lose the respect of their people, said Donna Hicks of Harvard University’s international affairs center: “The fear is the leader will look weak. But the fact is, when you make an announcement that you made a mistake, people want to stand up and shout for that person.”
• Treat others with respect. Whether in meetings or when setting policy, be sure to look at what’s most fair to employees, says Hicks, author of “Dignity.” Say a boss asks you to prepare something for a meeting. People at the top end up praising the idea, so your boss takes credit for it. You and others will think less of the boss, and you probably won’t go the extra mile next time your help is sought.
• Turn the tables. You have to hold your people accountable for their roles, too, Shotton said: “When you allow people to be less than their best and you don’t call them out for their mistakes, then you’re lowering the bar and not increasing their potential.”
• Offer an answer. Build a culture in which workers take charge of finding ways to deal with issues rather than just complaining about them.
“Don’t bring me a problem without a solution,” Shotton said, repeating what she used to tell her employees.
• Get feedback. Meet face to face with your subordinates to find how you can better motivate them in a dignified way.
Hicks worked with firms in which she had employees tell leaders in person how they were mistreated and how the boss could better handle some situations.
“It took several months to get them to trust that what happens is a good thing,” she said regarding those meetings. “But once you get both sides to agree, it will strengthen their relationship.”
• Seek other viewpoints. Include your people in the decision-making process before issuing an edict. Hicks saw some board members didn’t do that while making policies that adversely affected the employees.
“They feel violated,” she said. “And half the time it’s just a lack of awareness.”
• Discuss it. Build your core beliefs into the firm’s culture by making them visible. Put them on the wall and your website and regularly discuss them and relate them to everyday issues.
“We need to get back to talking about values more often,” Shotton said.