Leadership would be easy if it weren’t for people. I have had that thought many times, usually when I have had to address a person who has acted irrationally, irresponsibly, unprofessionally, or thoughtlessly. I hate it when I am that person, because we are all capable of actions and behaviors that do not represent the best of our humanity. At the same time, we all have incredible capacity to make a difference, achieve success, and contribute positively. I enjoy those days, don’t you?
Many leaders experience fewer enjoyable days and more stressful ones because they fail to hold people accountable when they behave negatively. The result is an inescapable trap that some leaders fall when they succumb to the belief that there is nothing that can be done. The basic belief: holding a person accountable is difficult and should be avoided if possible. I have observed six reasons leaders no not hold people accountable.
- Conflict - The leader believes potential conflict is riskier than the negative behavior.
- Failure – The leader believes that since he or she has failed, it is not right to address another’s failure.
- Expectation – The leader believes adults should know how to behave and therefore he or she should not have to intervene.
- Hindsight – The leader was not aware of his or her expectations until they were not met and then believes it is too late to address them.
- Control – The leader assumes tacit responsibility by fixing the problem because he or she believes the other person cannot or will not do it right.
- Pity – The leader feels sorry for the person and does not want to make him or her feel worse by addressing an issue.
Each of these reasons for not holding someone accountable becomes an inherent leadership trap. The intention behind the justification for ignoring negative behavior, whether based in pity, expectations, or any other of these beliefs, seems reasonable if you do not examine it. However, upon further examination, a leader will observe it becomes a self-imposed deception.
- Conflict ignored becomes increased conflict.
- Failure to address failure because of failure perpetuates failure.
- Expecting that which is not realistic creates a false reality.
- Permitting hindsight to limit the present undermines the future.
- Taking control of a responsibility without expecting a person to practice self-control limits you and frees them.
- Pity that removes consequences for behavior perpetuates that behavior.
Can you see the trap in each of these reasons for not holding someone accountable? I have unknowingly trapped myself by the practices that develop from these reasons. Beyond that, I have experienced the stress and frustration that accompanies each one. I have also observed these in many clients and organizations.
Accountability is the way out of the trap. Our upcoming, complimentary webinar Creating Employee Ownership through the Five Levels of Accountability will introduce you to an approach to accountability that ensures you avoid these traps. You can participate on Wednesday, July 25 from 11 am to 12 CST pm by signing up here.