In government service the word “accountability” has come to mean one thing: somebody needs to be punished. We see it all the time–articles in the paper, stories on the news–so-and-so “should be held accountable” usually means somebody needs to be fired.
The word is so highly charged that most people will RUN from anything that seems remotely related to accountability. But, we know that personal and organizational efficiency and effectiveness require accountability in order to thrive.
Over the course of our professional careers, we’ve been taught that the way to get something done is to “punish” someone for not doing it and to get it done better or faster next time, ignore or criticize whatever was accomplished because “it could always be better”.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Imagine a young child going out to his or her little league game. The child steps up to the plate, gets ready to swing, and the coach says, “You better get it right this time or you’re in big trouble”. With that resounding encouragement (insert sarcastic tone), the youngster hits the ball, and gets all the way to second base. The coach then yells at the child, “It’s about time you hit that ball. What took you so long? Second base was the best you could do (sneer)? You should’ve hit a home run. You’ve still got a loooong way to go, buddy, because nothing counts until you get to home plate”. How excited or enthusiastic do you think that child is going to be about the rest of the game…or baseball in general?
I’m not saying you or your colleagues are children. I am saying that we all retain elements of that old internal programing. As adults, we use a grown-up version of the same dialogue in an attempt to keep ourselves, and often others, on track. Then we wonder why we’re burned out, frustrated, and pissed off.
Clearly this definition of accountability isn’t actually getting us the results we were looking for. How do we know? We keep having the same problems.
So, how do we create accountability that works?
Accountability that works has 3 key components to it:
1. It is POSITIVE. Yes, you read that right. When operating from greatness, every step, every action, is cause for celebration. Yes, even celebrating failure. (A topic for another day.) The accomplishment of an intermediate milestone, the recognition that a project is dramatically off-track and needs a course correct, or a team member asking for support because he needs something to move the project forward, are all worthy of celebration. What went well to reach this point? Celebrate that! (No, I’m not talking about an office party. A “nice job” or 5-second Happy Dance will suffice.)
When we begin to focus on what went well FIRST, the conversations around improvement come from a foundation of “I wonder if/how…” as opposed to “shoulda/coulda/woulda”. That simple change in “come from” opens up a whole new level of creativity, commitment, and energy.
Celebrating progress is a key component of the weekly Intention Lab I hold with my private clients. The process is very simple. Fix a time in your calendar WEEKLY to capture what went well since last week.
2. It is FREELY CHOSEN. In the workplace the “accountability structure” is often dictated to you. Sometimes it motivates and encourages, most often it demoralizes and shuts down.
While you may or may not be able to shift the processes of your organization just yet, you can, and must, create an accountability system that works for you. Do you need a GANT chart or does a simple desk calendar and day planner work for you? How will you celebrate the incremental progress? (See Item 1 above.) What are your resistance patterns (those internal things that get in the way of you making progress)? Who can you turn to when things aren’t going the way you’d hoped?
This is why it is so important for you to choose your own accountability partner, otherwise known as a “Get-er-done” Buddy. And before you go looking for that partner, be sure you read key #3.
3. It is NON-JUDGEMENTAL. What?!? Yes, non-judgemental. The whole point of accountability is to keep you moving TOWARD a desired outcome. When some outside event changes your data set, or your internal programming starts getting you in your own way, criticism, skepticism, and coercion are not the things that are going to get you moving forward again. Who can you trust to help you spot your resistance patterns and move through them?
Note: Neither you nor your boss are good candidates for this role. By definition, your boss has a vested interest in your progress so he/she cannot be neutral. Plus, you have a vested interest in your boss’s opinion so you are unlikely to hear what you need to hear in a useful way. And while many of us can spot our own resistance patterns, we are anything but NON-JUDGEMENTAL about them. Self-flagellation generally does more harm than good.
When you build this kind of accountability for yourself, great things get done. So what do you need in order do that?
Have you ever wondered why if we have all this leadership training, do we still have bad leaders?
Throughout my many years as a leadership instructor inside my own organization, I repeatedly found myself navigating two heated conversations. (And usually the first conversation led to the second!)
1) My supervisor has been to these leadership classes, heard all this stuff, and he/she is still a jerk. What’s up with that?
When the conversations would come up in the classroom, I would hold the party line insisting that a person still had to choose to engage in appropriate leadership behaviors, blah, blah, blah.
But inside I was curious… Often I knew the alleged jerk and knew that the person did not get up in the morning deliberately intending to be a jerk. So what was going on?
After much study and experimentation, I concluded that leadership IS born, but not in the way you think. Perhaps it’s better said that everyone has natural leadership abilities within them. That greatness comes pre-installed by the manufacturer. The thing to learn is how to let it out.
Most organizations teach management processes and leadership tactics very well. Those are the DOING parts of the leadership equation. But just like a sledgehammer in the hands of someone not strong enough to lift it, the processes and tactics are useless, or even destructive, without the leadership mindset that makes all the other pieces work. The leadership mindset is what I call Greatness. It is the BEING part of leadership.
The good news is greatness is not something you have to learn or acquire, though it is something that may need to be discovered, unleashed, acknowledged, or accepted. Not by the organization, a boss, a direct report, or some outside party, but by the leader herself.
For most people, unleashing one’s own greatness is an ongoing evolutionary (sometimes REvolutionary) process. That’s why so few choose to actually do it. It requires recognizing, magnifying, and honoring one’s own unique contribution in order to recognize, magnify, and honor the unique contribution of another. It involves unpacking and disarming the fears, doubts, and limiting beliefs that get in the way of allowing your own natural leadership abilities to emerge so they can be refined and honed via the management processes and leadership tactics we’ve already been taught.
There is bad news about unleashing your greatness though… Because uncovering your greatness is such an individual, personal process, it requires individual, personal commitment at a core level. It requires commitment of personal time and energy within a structured, supportive community; one dedicated to helping you see and know your own greatness as you bring out the greatness in others.
That’s what leadership is after all.
If you’re ready to start uncovering your greatness, and need some guidance and help, then I want to talk to you! Let’s jump on the phone for a complimentary Great Life Strategy Session.
I’m one of those funny people who actually enjoy mowing the lawn. I get immediate gratification of seeing what I’ve accomplished, I’m out in the fresh air, and, since I’m moving .88 acres with a 21” push mower, it serves double-duty as my workout.
As I was mowing today I was reflecting on the leadership lessons in lawn-mowing. Here are a few of them:
- Start early; refresh often. It’s 100° here and the lawn is in full sun most of the day. An early start and liberal water breaks are key to getting the job done.
The same is true when it comes to honing your natural leadership abilities. The sooner you identify and magnify your unique gifts, the more successful you will be. AND, the secret to continued success is refreshing your body, mind, heart and soul regularly.
- Balance the long view with the close-in perspective. The light from the Arizona sun is so bright that it can be difficult to see where you are mowing. The only way to mow cleanly without missing spots is to aim for the distant “mow line” while also paying attention to the area immediately in front of you. (And, trust me, when I forget that I have to re-mow sections.)
Building a life inside your government career is the same way. Working inside a large bureaucratic organization, it can be very easy to develop tunnel vision focusing only on your short-term objectives like the project due next week or getting your next promotion. And, yes, you should focus on those things or you may need to “re-mow” that section. But don’t lose sight of your longer vision.
This is your LIFE.
What do you want it to look like? Feel like? If it doesn’t feel that way now, adjust! Don’t wait until you get to the other end of the yard and realize, “damn, this isn’t where I wanted to be.”
- Any great flood will float up your “thatch.” We have flood irrigation here. Twice a month I open valves at the back of the yard and water pours in for several hours. By the time the irrigation is finished the entire yard is under about 6 inches of water. You can almost hear the fruit trees slurping it up. But there is an ugly side. All the thatch, those dead bits of grass left over from previous mowings, gets lifted from the dirt and floats across the lawn to settle in random places choking the grass that gets stuck beneath it unless I rake it up and get rid of it. Once removed the lawn flourishes.
This is the dirty little secret about success. Receiving that flood of abundance that you’ve been craving (more time, more money, more authority, more responsibility, more freedom, more recognition, more respect, whatever) will float up all your “thatch.” All the old fears, limiting beliefs, unconscious programming, and habits that no longer serve you will rise to the surface.
Unless you grow, heal, and shed that old thatch, you will choke out the abundance you’ve just received and find yourself right back where you started from or worse. (This is the same phenomenon that causes most lottery winners to lose their winnings in short order.)
Take a look. What thatch do you need to shed so that you can flourish?
Here we are again. Time to buckle down and start working on those weaknesses… sometimes euphemistically called Developmental Areas. “Oh goodie! (insert tone of heavy sarcasm) Let’s force myself to do more of things I already hate or stink at.”
HOGWASH! Don’t waste your time!
If you’ve been on my campus for a while, then you know that I have a slightly different approach to “Developmental Areas.” Rather than focus on those things that drag you down, I encourage you to develop your gifts, those things you already love, to the next level. Strategically focusing your attention on those gifts you would like to discover, fine-tune, or master will make the biggest change for you in your life, and in your work, going forward.
Let me ask you something about opportunity… When was the last time you seized an opportunity when it came your way? This can be professionally or in your personal life.
Or are you like a lot of people and wait, worry, evaluate, and wiffle-waffle until the opportunity just passes you by? Maybe you’ll get a second chance or maybe not. Regardless, there’s always the wonder of what might have been if you had simply stepped up and seized the opportunity with both hands when it first presented itself.
In November 2014, I traveled to Cambodia on a service trip with Global Dental Relief. I was there to serve as a non-dental volunteer for an organization whose mission is to provide free dental care to children all around the world. You can learn more about the work they do at www.GlobalDentalRelief.org
For those of you who’ve been following me for a while, you know how important it is to follow your gifts. (Your unique gifts are the sum total of your talents, skills, abilities, physical attributes, experiences, likes, dislikes, quirks, and what other people call “flaws”.) This whole package is unique to you and is your unique contribution to the world.
Some people give their gifts as an old beat up, banged up, dirty box – the kind that got wet in shipping. If you try to give your gifts when they’re like this, they fall apart in the recipient’s hands. And that’s what happens when you don’t pursue greatness – your gifts become less valued because YOU don’t value them enough to pursue your own greatness.
Greatness comes in HOW you choose to give your gifts. If you’re always lackadaisically tripping through life waiting for someone else to notice and appreciate your gifts, you’re not pursing greatness. When you’re failing to care for yourself and choosing to accept “fine” as an appropriate level of joy or fulfillment, this is NOT Greatness.
Have you ever noticed that when it comes to promotions there seems to be little rhyme or reason to the process? Your organization has promotion criteria, and yet for every set of criteria you look around and see someone getting promoted who didn’t meet them. It can be frustrating. And yet, there is hope. There are some things you can do.
If you feel like you’re working hard but you still aren’t seeing the recognition that you expected, it’s time to take a closer look at your particular situation.
Are you really set up for success in the area of career progression? Here are 4 key areas to take a look at:
These first 2 areas are fairly straightforward. . .
1. Check Your Landscape
The first is a simple landscape question: in your current position, is there a next step up?
In today’s budget environment some positions just don’t have an option for promotion. There is nowhere to move up to. If you are in one of those positions and have already “maxed out” and you want to be promoted, it’s time to think about doing something else. . . either a different career track in the same organization, or a similar career track in a different organization with more “head room.”
Last month I introduced you to your Subconscious Mind and how powerful it is. You even got some tools to use to begin programming it as a secret weapon if you discovered that yours was acting more like a booby trap. (If you missed that article, you can read it here)
This month I want to share more about HOW the Subconscious Mind becomes a booby trap and how you can continue to re-program it in a way that helps you achieve your goals.
Take a look at the picture to the right and imagine this pyramid is an iceberg that represents your mind. Notice the arrows that lead from the bottom up. Beliefs > lead to Thoughts > lead to Feelings > lead to Actions > which lead to Your Results.
Most classes inside organizations focus on the top of the iceberg, the part you can see. They teach you to do the “right actions.” Some classes even begin to dip into the “Feelings” area with 360 feedback and some self-awareness exercises. The classes inside our organizations seldom “go below the water line.” Have you ever attended a leadership class at work and thought, “this stuff sounds really good but it doesn’t work in real life…in my office?” If so, it’s because we missed the lower part of the Iceberg.
Sometimes there are beliefs resident in the Subconscious Mind that are in direct conflict with the stated intentions of the Conscious Mind. If you notice that you seem to be unable to take the action you know you need to take, or that you take the action and get poor results, it is likely that there is something in your subconscious that is getting in the way.
For example, let’s say my intended RESULT is “Maintain a healthy weight” and I know that two actions leading to that goal are “Eat right” and “Exercise.” So, I try to take those two actions and it just doesn’t seem to work. Maybe I find it impossible to get to the gym regularly, or I go to the gym and go through the motions but don’t really exert myself. Maybe I get home late and tired and order a large pizza for dinner…3 nights a week. What happened?
Let’s look at the bottom of the pyramid. If we go all the way down to the base, if there is a belief that “Being healthy is NOT fun. Or, being healthy is HARD WORK” That belief may lead to the thought, “I don’t have time or energy to be healthy.” Depending on how I react to that thought, the feeling could be “overwhelm” (I just can’t do it all) or “guilt” (I should be able to do this) or “rebellion” (damn-it I just quit). And all the willpower in the world cannot consistently overcome those feelings to allow you to truly complete the stated actions in a way that can bring you the desired results.
The good news is …you can re-write these beliefs. And when you do, everything above that level shifts. When you re-write the belief into something that is supportive of your intended result, all the other parts become easy.
There are many modalities to change unsupportive beliefs. In the meantime, here are two simple exercises to get you started.
1. Decide there is a GIFT. When things don’t go the way you believe they “should” or turn out the way you expected, decide that the situation is exactly designed to lead you toward what you want…though potentially in a way you did not expect. Then challenge yourself to find 3 pieces of evidence that support that theory. Do not stop until you find the evidence. In the case of the above example, turn your belief, “being healthy is NOT fun,” to its exact opposite, “being healthy IS fun,” and challenge yourself to find 3 pieces of evidence that the statement is true.
2. Act AS IF. Each morning choose 1 of the things that matter most to you. Throughout the course of the day, act AS IF you were already experiencing that thing all out. Make decisions AS IF it were already true. For example, if one of the things that matters most to you is “I am strong, energetic and beautiful.” Make choices as that person all day. What would that person have for breakfast? How would she dress? How would she carry herself? What actions would she take to maintain herself?
Here’s your Mindset Mistake for November. If you would rather read this tip than watch the video, just scroll to the bottom of the page.
This is Martha Austin with Conscious Leadership blueprint and I have for you another Mindset Mistake that will derail your leadership. When I tell you what this Mindset Mistake is, some of you are going to think “Wow, this woman is way off base, this can’t be right.” And yet I’m going to offer you a different perspective. So the Mindset Mistake is “It has to be perfect”, some of you are thinking, “Martha what are you saying? I have to do my best every time and perfect is what I am aiming for.” I understand that, what I’m encouraging you to consider is, get comfortable with “Good Enough”.
Let me give you an example. Lets say you’re putting together a project proposal at work, you start working on the project, you outline it, you begin your presentation, you edit the slides. Then you go back and review it, and then you edit it again, then you go and review it, then you give it to a colleague to review it, and you edit that again and you are looking for perfect. Meanwhile another colleague with a similar idea has put their proposal together, reviewed it one time, edited one time and moved forward to make the proposal. And they got the project.
See once you start moving you can course correct. But nothing can happen as long as you are standing still. So I encourage you, get comfortable with Good Enough. And take that next step.
I look forward to hearing about your success. For other tips just like this one, click here for your free gift and a chance to take a leadership quiz and find out what other areas your leadership mindset could use a tweak. You will also get these Mindset Mistakes and tips for the conscious leader into your inbox every month.