Why Aren’t We Holding Leaders Accountable?

A team that's stuck, has a leader that's stuck.

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I ran into her at a meeting outside of Philly. She walked up to me anxious to share the news

“Russ, have you heard what happened with [fake name] Mike?”

“No, I’m totally out of the loop. What’s the latest?” I asked. 

This member of the HR team in a global Fortune 50 company then proceeded to share with me the impact of the departure of a senior leader at one of their plants. Our firm had been called in over a period of several months to try to fix issues on this leader’s team. The team was divided with strong feelings pitting one side against another.

I had spent countless hours on the phone with various leaders on the team taking notes as they vented and pointed fingers at others. Members of the team could barely speak to each other when we got them in the same room for a meeting. Billions of dollars was riding on these people collaborating. It was so frustrating as none of our efforts seemed to generate much movement.

“That’s all gone now,” this HR employee now energetically shared with me. “Mike retired and all the issues are gone,” she said acting totally relieved and surprised.

Leadership guru John Maxwell teaches, “to change the direction of the organization, change the leader.”

The same is true for a team. 

Organizations waste an insane amount of money and time trying to figure out how to fix problems that can be resolved fairly easily.

When a team isn’t delivering, when they aren’t collaborating well, when they’re not innovating, or when they’re not engaged it’s a leadership problem. Period. End of story.

The leader causing the problem might not be the immediate supervisor, manager, or director of that team. It could the leader directly above them on the org chart. Figuring out which leader it is will take some digging but make no mistake about it: the leader is creating, enabling, or ignoring the problem. Far too many organizations tolerate leaders who are hurting the organization financially.

I’m working closely right now with an organization that should be experiencing dramatic growth but instead they are completely stuck. Revenue is stuck. Employee engagement is stuck. Branding is stuck. The culture is stuck. This company should be generating double digit growth every year right now. The market they’re in is red-hot. And yet, they’ll end 2019 and extend the flat line on the revenue chart yet again.

Every time I interact with this organization I think of Maxwell’s quote – “to change the direction of an organization, change the leader.”

Every leader has a limit to their ability. We can’t expect “A” level results from an organization or team with a “C” or “D” level leader. Leadership ability isn’t fixed. It can change with development and feedback. 

Most leaders, unfortunately, gain a little confidence after some measure of success and don’t actively pursue developing their skills or seek regular feedback or coaching. And when they don’t no one should expect different outcomes or results from their team. Well, not until the leader leaves.

Russ Hill is host of the Decide to Lead podcast and a senior partner at Partners In Leadership. He is a Fortune 500 executive coach helping leaders manage their culture to build accountability for results. Russ is also on Instagram where he shares thoughts and experiences about leadership.

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