Accountability is one of the most important things leaders must deal with in business, and often, it’s the one they struggle with most.
See if you recognize some of these suggestions you have heard from others on how to deal with holding people accountable:
“Be clear on action items, crystal clear.” It never worked for me. I mean, how much more clear can you get?
“Follow up regularly.” It’s exhausting to follow up regularly. Not only would I be totally drained, but it would slow me down, and I would get upset with the person I had to constantly follow up with.
“Share the brutal truth and then coach.” Who wants to do that? The brutal truth hurts. I mean, are you supposed to hit your employee over the head and then coach them to regain their consciousness?
Guilty as I may be, I tried doing all of those things when I was a manager years ago, and they didn’t help.
So, what is the answer? What are leaders supposed to do when they are being coached and trained to believe that accountability and ownership are critical attributes of a successful leader?
The solution is emotional connection.
The best accountability is when it is self-motivated and self-driven. When a person is not following through, it’s not because they aren’t accountable, it’s because they are stuck. They have lost their emotional connection with their leader and/or peers. They feel disconnected, stressed, isolated, disengaged and are no longer motivated to do their part in the project. Their brain is not functioning because it’s saying, “I am all alone. I am not safe.”
Emotional connection is the most powerful motivational force in our brain. It’s a survival code. When we feel as though we’re undervalued or unimportant by people we depend on, our brain goes into a panic. This panic interrupts our ability to perform.
Then, we start to use ineffective strategies to reconnect. However, when we don’t know how to identify what is that we need, we start to push for connection, which comes off as complaining, criticizing or judging. Or, we withdraw and disengage. In both cases, we get stuck.
When I work with leaders who struggle with holding their people accountable, I reframe the lack of accountability in terms of the being stuck in a negative cycle. Through the process of emotional connection, or EmC, I create psychological safety for all parties involved to bring them together and identify where the disconnect happened and what they need to reconnect.
Think about it. When people are hired, they are motivated, excited, and accountable. No one has to run after them to get things done. It is only when something triggers them and they don’t know how to address it that they start to step into the negative cycle. Once they are in the cycle, triggers continue to occur, creating more and more disconnect and distance and impacting their motivation to perform even further.
So, whenever there is an accountability issue, I always address it with emotional connection.
First, create safety by validating and processing the other person’s emotions. Then, identify triggers and fears and help them articulate their needs. This allows them to be more aware of what happened and how they got stuck in a negative cycle. Once they feel safe, structure a bonding conversation where they can share their vulnerability on what triggered them and how they got disconnected so you can meet each other’s needs.
I once worked with an executive team and the VP of Sales came in and said, “I don’t have any time. I am very busy. I can’t take any more assignments, and I am not even sure why I am here at this meeting.” After about two hours, when we were able to access his emotions (he felt unimportant and undervalued), help him process it, address his needs and reconnect him with the executive team, he started volunteering to help and take on more assignments. I was stunned. No one was asking him to do anything. He was the one who was taking the initiative to say, “Oh, I can help you with that. I’d love to be included in that. Let’s work together on this.”
You could call it a change in a relationship, a shift in dynamics or something else. But you can also call it a moment of bonding, and it moves me just as it moves the people who are doing the process. When you address accountability issues through the process of emotional connection, the motivation for performance turns on like a charge, and the accountability takes care of itself. It’s pretty amazing.