Friday, 20 November 2015

Leading in times of crisis.

Recent events in Paris and many other locations around the world remind us that we are living in unusual times.  Unusual for those of us in Western democracies; not so much for those in different regions.  Residents of the Middle East, parts of Africa and elsewhere deal with this climate of unrest on a daily basis.  But for most of us, these are uncertain times.

As a leader, what should your response be?  How do you instill some measure of sanity to events that seem insane?  How do you bring sense out of chaos?  How do you bring calm in the midst of the storm?

To begin you must acknowledge that the perceptions that are held, are legitimate.  It is true that 'perception is reality''; at least in the eye of the beholder.  You cannot simply dismiss the feelings that these events stir in people.

But acknowledging is not the same as standing in agreement with another.  In fact, as leader it is your responsibility to ensure that individual perceptions actually align with reality.  The fear which is paralyzing another person may, in fact, be a vicarious fear which has little or no likelihood of being played out in your circumstances. 

The truth dispels fear.  And in so doing the root of the crisis is crippled.  With a healthy and appropriate view of the situation, most people will be able to process the risks and consequences by themselves.  It is your responsibility to create an environment in which individuals are able to feel safe, trusted and valued.  In this they will find strength to face their fears.

I have frequently mentioned the need for a leader to be a person of integrity; honestly; and reliability.  While these characteristics are important on a daily basis they carry heightened importance when unanticipated crises enter our lives and the lives of those with whom we work.

Your staff may not be looking to you for this kind of leadership.  But they will be grateful if they find it!

Friday, 6 November 2015

The curse of the AD!

In every supervisory, management or leadership position there is a threefold understanding.  With the responsibility of the position one must also be given the necessary scope of authority to make decisions that impact the outcome.  When the individual accepts these parameters they also accept their counterpart...accountability.

It is like a three legged stool in which all three legs must fit.  If any one of the three is missing the stool will not stand.  Likewise, responsibility, authority and accountability must be implicit.  The absence of any renders this 'understanding' invalid. 

This equation is not new, nor is it rocket science.  Yet I am amazed how frequently it is not properly understood and deployed. 

I see responsibility without authority.  How can anyone be held accountable for the results?

I see authority without a clear definition of the responsibility to which it is attached.  This is a recipe for disaster because the expectations of the parties may be completely different.

And I see too many situations where responsibility and authority are granted but there is no accountability for the results.  In my view this is like playing the game but not keeping score.  That sounds like practice not competition!

In this discussion there is also a significant misunderstanding with respect to delegation of authority.  Too often the person delegating authority believes that they have also delegated the accountability.  NO SO!!!! 

You cannot evade the outcome that easily.  These people are quick to accept the acclaim when delegated authority produces a great result.  But they are equally adept at avoiding the fallout when things don`t go so well.  This person is the classic 'accountability deflector' and the more senior the person, the more adept many become at the game. 

As example, the CEO of a major Toronto corporation recently terminated two senior members of his staff because a project under their scope of responsibility had gone over budget  by some $400 million and was years late in completion.  I don't have a problem in principle with the terminations but in a classic case of 'accountability deflector' - the CEO - ought to be held to account as well. 

What was magic about $400 million and years late as a threshold for a decision.  Clearly if he was doing his job in an accountable fashion he should have been ringing the alarm bell when the project was over budget and late by any amount.  A project of this magnitude most certainly should have been on his radar and responded to in a much timelier manner.  And I hold the Board of Directors equally accountable for their failure to have safeguards in place to prevent this type of incompetence.

A surefire way to disengage your staff is by your abuse of this critical issue of accountability.  To deny it in difficult circumstances or to pilfer it in good have an equally negative impact on your credibility and on the commitment you can expect from others.

Leadership comes with much privilege...privilege which typically increases with the level of responsibility.  Failures happen at every level; perfection is only a goal that none of us ever reach. 

So step up and take the blows that come with being accountable.  It builds character; it builds respect; and to the attentive listener it teaches lessons that lead to future successes.